Refugees and migrants trapped in a detention centre on the front line of conflict in Tripoli for weeks say they were shot at indiscriminately on Tuesday by fighters affiliated to Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar’s forces advancing on Libya’s capital.
At least 10 people were seriously wounded by gunfire, according to detainees.
“Right now they are attacking the centre, shooting more people … They are shooting us directly,” an Eritrean man told broadcaster Al Jazeera.
“We need medical treatment right now because the people with us, their injuries are really a lot.”
Four people in the detention centre in Qasr bin Ghashir, 25km south of Libyan capital Tripoli, said the fighters that attacked them were affiliated to the Libyan National Army (LNA) led by renegade commander Haftar whose forces attacked Tripoli on April 4.
United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) said that more than 100 women and nearly 50 children are among the 728 refugees and migrants in the detention centre.
The Qasr bin Ghashir’s detainees said Libyan guards told them they were leaving them on their own after an unsuccessful attempt to relocate them.
Most of the detainees have been locked up for months with smugglers.
There are approximately 6,000 refugees and migrants currently being held in detention centres under the control of the Libyan Department for Combatting Illegal Migration.
More than 2,700 are in areas affected by clashes, according to the UN.
Many of the refugees and migrants currently detained in the centre have already tried to migrate to Italy by crossing the Mediterranean Sea, but were caught by the Libyan coastguard.
Haftar, who backs an eastern-based administration that refuses to recognise the internationally-recognised Government of National Accord (GNA), has steadily expanded his control of Libya.
Following a thrust southwards early this year, he says he now controls some 90 percent of the country and has turned his sights on the capital.
Haftar’s offensive, which the UN says has claimed over 200 lives, and France’s alleged support, have sparked public opposition in western Libya.
Hundreds of Libyans held a protest against France in Tripoli on Friday, sporting trademark yellow vests of French anti-government demonstrators and condemning both France and “war criminal” Haftar.
Haftar has led previous campaigns against Islamist militias and other rivals in eastern Libya, and has also received support from the UAE, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Russia.
A Libyan media worker told The New Arab’s Arabic service, on condition of anonymity, that UAE has set up propaganda media platforms to garner support from Libyans in favour of Haftar and his forces.
The media worker confirmed that staff are being trained and have been enrolled on training courses for this purpose.