More than 950 refugees and migrants, among them 136 women and 85 children were intercepted in the Mediterranean in the first two weeks of 2020 and returned to inhumane detention centers in war-ravaged Lybia, one of the least safe countries for them, according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM).
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“Most [refugees and migrants] were disembarked in Tripoli and all were taken to detention centers,” the IOM said in a statement.
“NGO search and rescue vessels reported having rescued 237 others. These returned migrants are among the more than 1,000 who have left Libya by sea since 1 Jan driven in part by the heaviest clashes Tripoli has seen since hostilities began nine months ago. ”
Out of the 636,000 African refugees and migrants currently present in Libya, some 4,500 are jailed in “official” detention centers across the country, while thousands of others are imprisoned in facilities run by militias.
Although in general, all the prisons locking up refugees and migrants in the North African country are overfilled with unsanitary and cruel conditions with raging abuse and violence, according to the hundreds of reports on the issue released over the past years.
A report released by the U.N. in 2018, for instance, said the “horrors” the refugees and migrants endure from the time they enter Libya are “unimaginable.” These prisons are not either safe from the conflict.
In July an airstrike hit a detention center, killed at least 50 people and wounded more than 130 in a suburb of the Libyan capital Tripoli. The incident was denounced by the U.N. as amounting to the level of a war crime.
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Large oil producer Libya, once a stable and prosperous nation with health and educations indicators among the highest in Africa has been plagued with turmoil and chaos since a North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO)-backed uprising toppled the longtime leader Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.
It is now torn between two rival administrations, the United Nations-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) led by Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj and the Libyan National Army (LNA) led by military commander Khalifa Haftar.
Tensions between both sides escalated in April when Haftar launched a military operation to seize Tripoli after sweeping through much of Libya's south and capturing most of the country's oil facilities.
In the meantime, Russia and Turkey which back opposite sides brokered talks between both warring sides and convened with them Monday in Moscow to reach a ceasefire deal. However, Russia's Foreign Ministry said Tuesday that Haftar refused to sign the agreement despite it was already signed by al-Sarraj.
Nearly 12,000 refugees and migrants have drowned in the Mediterranean since 2016 while attempting to reach the shores of Europe. Some 9,000 people were intercepted by the Libyan coastguard and sent back to Libya last year, with the support of the European Union.