Report: Militias in Western Libya Clash Over “Migrants”

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An international report has revealed that clashes have erupted between the Minister of Interior of the Libyan Government of National Accord (GNA) Fathi Bashagha and militia leaders over managing the migration issue.

The Global Initiative Against Transnational Organised Crime indicated in a report on illegal immigration in Libya that militias were involved in detention centres for illegal immigrants.

The report stated that after an air raid on a migrant detention centre in Tajoura which killed 53 migrants on 2 July 2019, calls came to close these centres, and keep them away from the conflict areas. The report revealed that despite these efforts, after more than a year, nothing has changed. Detention centres continue to operate near military sites, which are controlled by militias, some of whom end up clashing with one another.

The report confirmed that only 20 of the more than 34 detention centres in Libya, with about 3,200 immigrants in Libya, were under the authority of the Department for Combating Illegal Migration. The report emphasized that, unofficially, all detention centres were controlled by militias which posed a threat to the safety of the detained migrants. It stated that the militias benefit from controlling these detention centres through their involvement in human trafficking networks, extortion, and by using detained migrants for manual labour. This includes cleaning weapons and loading ammunition for militia groups.

According to the authors of the report, Bashagha faces a power split between the head of the GNA’s Directorate for Combating Illegal Migration (DCIM) Al-Mabrouk Abdel-Hafez, and the GNA Deputy Minister for Illegal Immigration Affairs, Mohamed Al-Shaibani. “In July 2020, for example, Abdel-Hafez dismissed Muhammad Al-Khawja, the leader of the Tripoli militia that ran the Tarik Al-Sikka detention centre. By September, it was clear that Al-Khawja ignored these instructions and was still working in Tripoli.”

Power in western Libya is still measured by military force, with armed groups still retaining the ability to shape national policy. The report noted that the control of the competing militias over detention centres and their surrounding areas, helps to create resistance to a unified central authority. This prevents the Ministry of Interior from imposing direct control over the militias, while opposing militia leaders. It is believed that Bashagha is trying to market himself as a man of law and order, in an attempt to secure the role of Prime Minister in the next transitional government.

Tension between the militias of Tripoli and Misrata have increased due to Bashagha’s recent policies, especially in light of his accusation of his loyalty to Misrata at the expense of Tripoli. A number of militias in the cities of Zawiya, Zuwara, Sabratah, and Al-Jmail have issued statements in which they criticized Bashagha. They stated that he promotes an international agenda to disarm and dismantle what they called “Tripoli Revolutionaries” to achieve his goals of reaching power.