Migrant sit-in violently dispersed by Libyan security forces

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Libyan security forces violently dispersed a sit-in organized by migrants to protest the recent closure of a UN community center in Tripoli, arresting hundreds, migrants and activists reported Monday.

Troops arrived overnight, destroyed the protest site and arrested hundreds of people, activist Tarik Lamloum said. The detainees were sent to a detention center in the nearby town of Ain Zara. Others managed to escape the raid, he said.

Lamloum, who works with the local human rights organization Belaady, said at least one migrant community leader was shot dead in the raid.

Migrants, including women and children, had been camping outside central Tripoli since October, seeking protection following a massive crackdown on migrants, and demanding protection and better treatment from the Libyan authorities .

Aiysha, a Sudanese migrant, had been part of the sit-in with her family since October. The mother-of-two said police beat and detained migrants. She was one of those detained.

“We were caught off guard,” she said, speaking by phone from Ain Zara detention center. She only gave her first name, fearing for her safety. “They burned the tents, burned everything.”

The Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) and the International Rescue Committee said more than 600 migrants were arrested in the raid.

“This is the culmination of a catastrophic situation that has deteriorated” since the mass detention of migrants in October, said Dax Roque, director of NRC Libya.

Both groups urged the Libyan authorities to immediately release those detained and protect them from further violence.

A government spokesperson did not respond to phone calls or messages seeking comment.

During the October crackdown, Libyan authorities arrested more than 5,000 migrants, including hundreds of children and women, including dozens who were pregnant, according to the United Nations. Authorities at the time described it as a security operation against illegal migration and drug trafficking. The detained migrants were taken to overcrowded detention centers, sparking an outcry from the UN and human rights groups.

Oil-rich Libya has been in chaos since a NATO-backed uprising toppled and killed longtime dictator Muammar Gaddafi in 2011. The North African country has become the focus in recent years. dominant transit point for migrants fleeing war and poverty in Africa and the Middle East. East, hoping for a better life in Europe.

The traffickers have exploited the chaos and often pack desperate families into ill-equipped rubber or wooden boats that stall and sink along the perilous central Mediterranean route. Thousands of people drowned en route, others were intercepted and sent back to Libya.

Those held ashore and others returned to shore are often taken to government-run detention centers where torture, sexual assault and other abuses are rife. UN-commissioned investigators said in October that the abuse and mistreatment of migrants at sea, in detention centers and at the hands of traffickers in Libya amounted to crimes against humanity.

Last month, the Libyan government appointed Mohammed al-Khoja, a militia leader implicated in abuses against migrants, as head of the Department for Combating Irregular Migration. The agency oversees detention centers under the Ministry of the Interior.

Al-Khoja was the deputy director of DCIM and for years ran the Tarik al-Sikka detention center in Tripoli, which is notorious for its abuses, including beatings, forced labor and a massive ransom program. He also has close ties to other UN-sanctioned militia leaders and human traffickers in western Libya.

The European Union, which has given Libya millions of euros to help stem the departure of migrants on dangerous journeys, said on Monday it was seeking clarification from the Libyan government on al-Khoja’s appointment.

“We believe that it is in Libya’s interest to have people in senior positions with good backgrounds,” said European Commission spokesman Peter Stano.

Vincent Cochetel, the special envoy of the UN refugee agency for the Central Mediterranean, denounced the appointment last week, saying: “It is quite revealing of the situation in which we find ourselves. Don’t go to Libya, it’s dangerous.

Libya is one of the main beneficiaries of the European Union trust funds for Africa, much of which is earmarked for migration purposes. The North African country has received nearly half a billion euros ($ 566 million) from the fund since 2015. The EU has also contributed to the supply of ships and the refit of more ships. old used by the Libyan Coast Guard. It has also trained coastguard personnel, some of whom are accused of abusing migrants.

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