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  • Blood stains are seen amidst debris at detention center that was hit by an airstrike.

    Blood stains are seen amidst debris at detention center that was hit by an airstrike. | Photo: Reuters

Published 4 July 2019

“There are reports that following the first impact, some refugees and migrants were fired upon by guards as they tried to escape,” the U.N. agency reported.

The United Nations (U.N.) Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said Thursday in a document published on its website, it had information that Libyan guards shot at migrants and refugees trying to flee from Tuesday’s bombings on a migrant detention facility in Tripoli.

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“There are reports that following the first impact, some refugees and migrants were fired upon by guards as they tried to escape,” the OCHA report said.

The Libyan government is backed by the U.N., however Interior Minister Fathi Ali Bashagha denied the statements.

An airstrike hit a detention center for mainly African migrants Tuesday, killing at least 53 people including six children, but the report suggests the death poll may rise as bodies are still being recovered from the rubble. 

It is the highest publicly reported death toll from an air strike or shelling since Libya National Army's (LNA) forces under General Khalifa Haftar launched a ground and aerial offensive three months ago to take Tripoli, the base of Libya’s government of National Accord (GNA) in the northwest of the country.

“The number of civilian casualties caused by the conflict has almost doubled as the result of this single attack,” the OCHA report said, a day after U.N. officials said the attacks may have constituted a war crime.

Libya is one of the main departure points for African migrants, fleeing poverty and war, to try to reach Italy by boat. However, many are picked up and brought back by the Libyan coast guard, supported by the European Union.

Thousands are then held in government-run detention centers in what human rights groups and the U.N. say are often inhuman conditions, insisting Libya is not a safe place for rescued migrants to be sent. 

The UNHCR refugee agency had already called in May for the Tajoura center to be evacuated after a projectile landed less than 100 meters (330 feet) away, injuring two people. The hangar-type detention center is next to a military camp, one of several in Tajoura, which has been targeted by airstrikes for weeks.

There are still around 500 people at the center with four Nigerians set to be released to their country's embassy and 31 women and children that will be sent to U.N. facilities departure centers in Tripoli.

Since 2014, Libya has had two political power centers, the U.N.-backed government in Tripoli, which is having a hard time governing the capital city and some western areas, and another government in Tobruk, an eastern city which has remained under Haftar's control.

The North-African nation has major oil reserves. It had been under foreign rule for centuries and gained independence in 1951. Colonel Muammar Gaddafi seized power in 1969 and ruled the country for four decades until he was toppled in 2011 by Western military intervention. 

The country has since been in chaos with political forces unable to stabilize it. It also transformed in a key point of departure for migrants heading for Europe, and a source of international concern over the rise of Islamists groups.

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