UN officials say guards kill 6 migrants held in Libya

ABOARD GEO BARENTS (AP) – Guards at a Libyan migrant detention center have shot dead at least six people amid…

UN officials said Saturday that guards at a Libyan migrant detention center have shot dead at least six people amid chaos at the overcrowded facility, in the latest migrant tragedy in the North African country.

This development comes a week after authorities detained more than 5,000 migrants in a widespread crackdown and after UN investigators said the abuses and mistreatment of migrants in Libya amounted to crimes against humanity.

The shooting took place, on Friday, in the Mabany detention center west of the capital, Tripoli, where the authorities sent 4,187 new detainees earlier this month, including 511 women and 60 children, according to the International Organization for Migration.

A spokesman for Libya’s Interior Ministry, which oversees immigration detention centers, did not respond to requests for comment.

It was not immediately clear what caused the violence. But Vincent Cochetel, UNHCR’s special envoy for the central Mediterranean, said “human rights violations and inhumane conditions” in overcrowded Libyan detention centers led to the chaos, which included “indiscriminate shootings”.

Cochetel urged the European Union and the United Nations to impose sanctions on those involved in violations against migrants, especially after the findings of authorized UN investigators.

“Some individuals bear special responsibility for human rights violations committed either because they are directly involved in them or because they are covering them under their authority. It is time for the United Nations and the European Union Sanctions Committee to take action and include some individuals on the list,” he told The Associated Press.

Federico Soda, the IOM’s chief of mission in Libya, said at least six migrants were shot dead by guards.

A video circulated online purporting to show hundreds of migrants escaping the detention center through a gap in the facility fence. Some were seen apparently helping fellow injured migrants. Other videos showed large numbers of migrants running through the streets of Tripoli.

Gabriel Akolung, 24, from Cameroon, was among the fleeing migrants. He was arrested in the crackdown in the western town of Qaraqish, a major center for migrants in Libya, and imprisoned in buildings.

“They put us in crowded cells where we couldn’t even breathe. There was no food, no water, no oxygen.”

During the escape, some of the migrants fell and were caught by the Libyan guards who beat them. He said that some of the migrants who tried to escape were shot.

“I keep asking myself why we were detained and imprisoned,” he told The Associated Press in a phone interview from Tripoli where he was hiding.

Earlier this week, several migrants tried to flee the Mabanee center, but were met with “extreme violence,” according to Doctors Without Borders, which got a rare visit to the center.

The group, also known by its French acronym Doctors Without Borders, said its visiting team “heard two shots of heavy gunfire at very close range and witnessed the indiscriminate beating of a group of men who were later forced into vehicles and taken to an unknown destination”.

More than 5,000 migrants were arrested in the crackdown earlier this month, including 215 children and more than 540 women, at least 30 of whom are pregnant, according to the International Organization for Migration. The campaign, which resulted in the death of an immigrant and the wounding of 15 others, began on 1 October in Qarqarish and spread to the surrounding areas.

The Libyan authorities described the crackdown as a security operation against illegal immigration and drug smuggling. But they did not mention the arrest of any smugglers or smugglers.

Hours before Friday’s chaos in buildings, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees said authorities demolished several buildings and temporary homes for migrants during the crackdown.

“The raids … created widespread panic and fear among asylum seekers and refugees in the capital,” UNHCR said. Several migrants, including unaccompanied children and young mothers, protested at the agency’s Al-Youm Community Center in Tripoli, calling for evacuation from Libya.

UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, said it had temporarily suspended its activities at the center after two of its workers were injured.

Libya has been mired in chaos since a NATO-backed uprising toppled and killed dictator Muammar Gaddafi in 2011. Since then the country has emerged as a hub for migrants fleeing poverty and civil war in Africa and the Middle East and hoping for a better life in Europe.

Thousands of migrants have been intercepted in the Mediterranean and returned to Libyan detention centers where abuse, torture and sexual violence are widespread.

Authorized UN investigators said abuses against migrants at sea, in detention centers, and at the hands of traffickers amounted to crimes against humanity.

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Journalist Renata Brito contributed to the Associated Press in Paris.

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