The UN refugee agency has called on the Libyan government in Tripoli to close its refugee detention centres, describing conditions as inhumane and shocking.
The call comes as the Libya Quartet meets in Brussels on Tuesday to discuss how to slow the flow of refugees across the Mediterranean from Libya to Italy.
The Italian coastguard said that on Friday alone 2,100 people were rescued from the sea. Up to 17 May, 45,754 migrants from the Libyan coast have been rescued at sea and taken to Italy this year, more than 8,500 of whom arrived in the past two weeks. The figures represent a big increase on the same period last year.
The UN high commissioner for refugees, Filippo Grandi, said after a visit to Tripoli that he was “shocked at the harsh conditions in which refugees and migrants are held” in Libya, which he said was “generally due to lack of resources”.
“I hope first of all that asylum seekers and refugees can be taken out of detention centres. I fully appreciate that the government has security concerns,” he said, adding that “other solutions” could be found for people fleeing countries in conflict such as Syria and Somalia.
His remarks underline how the international community is struggling to find a political or moral solution to the refugee crisis. Thousands of migrants are being held in dozens of detention centres in Libya, some run by smugglers and some by the UN-backed government, either after being stopped on trafficking routes inside Libya or rescued inside Libyan coastal waters as they attempt the perilous crossing to Europe.
The EU is training the Libyan coastguard to step up its efforts to turn back boats if they are inside Libya’s own waters, but this will require higher-quality detention centres in the country and better efforts to stem the flow of refugees coming from Niger.
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