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Libya: Detained refugees shot as clashes near Tripoli continue

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 aligned with eastern forces advancing on Libya’s capital.

At least 10 people were seriously wounded by gunfire, detainees said.

“Right now they are attacking the centre, shooting more people … They are shooting us directly,” an Eritrean man told Al Jazeera through the messaging service WhatsApp.

“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 Tripoli, said the fighters that attacked them were aligned with the Libyan National Army led by renegade commander Khalifa Haftar whose forces attacked Libya‘s capital on April 4.

More than 100 women and nearly 50 children are among the 728 refugees and migrants in the detention centre, according to the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR)

Paula Barrachina, a spokeswoman for the UNHCR, told Al Jazeera: “We’re extremely worried about the events that happened today in Qasr bin Ghashir and we are working to find a solution to bring them to a safer location.”

Migrace is a Libyan organisation that has been delivering food to refugees and migrants in Qasr bin Ghashir. “The situation is extremely dangerous and access is very difficult,” it tweeted

‘Bleeding a lot’

Another detainee told Al Jazeera fighters first searched for telephones. “Then they were beating and shooting people. We are in a bad situation, Haftar’s soldiers attacked us.”

Attempts by Libyan authorities to move the detainees in Qasr bin Ghashir, after a week of clashes, had failed.

“People are bleeding a lot; now, I need emergency assistance. Please share for us to the world,” said another man, using a hidden phone. He said soldiers had already taken mobile phones from many of the people with him.

“Please, please, please, dear, we are in danger.”

The refugees and migrants refused to be taken to a detention centre in Zintan, 170km southwest of Tripoli, where they worried they would have little access to international organisations. They said there was a high death rate because of poor conditions and a lack of medical care.

6,000 refugees

After the failed attempt to relocate them, Qasr bin Ghashir’s detainees, most of whom have been locked up for months after years with smugglers, said Libyan guards told them they were leaving them on their own. “They didn’t leave [us] anything to defend ourselves,” one man messaged Al Jazeera on April 13.

It is unclear if guards were present when Tuesday’s shootings took place.

Detainees in Qasr bin Ghashir previously told Al Jazeera that LNA-aligned fighters had beaten up two men who tried to leave the detention centre to get fresh water.

There are roughly 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 held in Qasr bin Ghashir have already tried to reach Italy by crossing the Mediterranean Sea, but were caught by the Libyan coastguard, which is funded by the EU under a policy aimed at stopping migration to Europe.

Most of those caught in the Mediterranean are locked up in indefinite detention after they’re returned to Libya.

 

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