After unprecedented raids in western Libya, the International Rescue Committee (IRC) warns that detained migrants are reporting serious abuse, violence and a lack of access to basic services.
More than 5,000 migrants have been sent to detention centres in the past few days, in what Libyan authorities have described as a security crackdown against illegal immigration and drug smuggling.
There were also numerous reports of the use of excessive force in raids and arbitrary arrests, resulting in the death of at least one person, the injury of many people and the destruction of homes. The detainees include hundreds of vulnerable women and children.
Detention centres are receiving much more than their capacity, as the buildings, the largest detention centre in Libya, are currently holding more than 4,000 people—four times their capacity. As for the Al-Zawiya Street Detention Centre which is for women and children only, its detainees have increased from only 71 people at the beginning of September to more than 520 people today, with more than 175 children, including 47 infants.
The IRC staff who visited some of the detention centres reported dire conditions due to severe overcrowding and a lack of basic services including poor access to clean water, sanitation and food.
Hundreds are also currently being held in one of the centres, in an open yard without a roof over their heads to protect them. Some detainees, who were forced to sleep on the floor without mattresses or blankets, reported having received only one meal per day since their detention about a week ago.
In this regard, the director of the International Rescue Committee's office in Libya, Tom Garofalo, says:
"We are deeply concerned about the critical and heartbreaking conditions migrants face in dangerously overcrowded detention centres now."
"Our teams have heard reports that some people have been forced to use the floor they sleep on as a toilet, because they are not allowed access to toilets located outside the place of detention."
"We are particularly concerned about the potential spread of infectious diseases in such restrictive and unsanitary conditions. Our teams have recently identified cases of tuberculosis among arbitrary detainees, while there have also been suspected cases of COVID-19."
"With more raids continuing and the likelihood of a rise in the number of vulnerable migrants in detention, it is only a matter of time before detention centres reach their breaking point."
The agency warns that, not only are thousands of migrants and refugees recently detained in dire need of assistance, hundreds of migrants and refugees living in the Tripoli area are currently hiding out of fear of being arbitrarily detained.
Those in hiding are requesting urgent support such as food, water and medicine, but humanitarian agencies cannot reach them due to the constant raids.