At least five migrants have been shot dead at a Tripoli detention centre amid a mass escape from the overcrowded facility.
Libyan security forces have detained more than 5,000 migrants, refugees and asylum seekers mostly from sub-Saharan Africa in a crackdown over the past week, housing them in crowded, unsanitary detention centres, the United Nations refugee agency UNHCR has said.
International Organization for Migration (IOM) Libya mission head Federico Soda said the overcrowding at Ghot Shaal detention centre had led to chaos there, with people sleeping in the open and different security forces present.
“Shooting started,” he said, adding that at least five people were killed.
Numerous videos posted on social media, which Reuters could not immediately authenticate, showed dozens of people pouring through a gap in a fence, and larger numbers marching through Tripoli streets.
Two Tripoli residents said they had seen large numbers of migrants running through the streets in that area.
Dozens of migrants were seen sitting on the floor surrounded by guards and said there was a very heavy security presence around the area and there had been sporadic sounds of shooting.
The United Nations refugee agency said earlier on Friday it was increasingly alarmed about the situation for migrants and refugees in Libya after more than 5,000 were arrested in the recent crackdown. Some detainees have allegedly been subjected to severe physical and sexual violence.
“The raids, which also involved the demolition of many unfinished buildings and makeshift houses, have created widespread panic and fear among asylum seekers and refugees in the capital,” it said in a statement.
On Monday UN investigators said abuses against migrants and refugees in Libya were “on a widespread scale … with a high level of organisation and with the encouragement of the state … suggestive of crimes against humanity“.
Medical charity Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) said the number of people in Tripoli’s detention centres has more than trebled since Monday. “During the raids on their homes, many of those captured were reportedly subjected to severe physical violence, including sexual violence,” the charity said in a statement.
In one detention centre, more than 550 women – some of whom were pregnant – children, and newborn babies were crammed into cells. About 120 inmates shared just one toilet.