Libyan security forces disperse migrants to protest sit-in

Activists and migrants say that Libyan security forces have broken up migrants’ protest sit-ins outside the former United Nations community center in the capital of Tripoli

Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt – Activists and immigrants said Monday that Libyan security forces raided and violently dispersed immigrant protest sit-ins outside the closed United Nations community center in the capital of Tripoli.

The militant Tarik Lamloum said that the army arrived overnight, destroyed the protest site and arrested hundreds of people. The detainees were taken to the detention center in the nearby town of Ain Zara. He said that others managed to escape the raid.

Ramlum, who works with the local Beladi human rights organization, said at least one leader of the immigrant community was shot dead in the raid.

Since October, migrants, including women and children, have been camping outside the center of Tripoli, seeking protection after a large-scale suppression of migrants, and demanding better treatment from the Libyan authorities.

Since October, Sudanese immigrant Aiysha has participated in sit-in protests with her family. The mother of two said that the police beat and detained the immigrants. She is one of the detainees.

“We were caught off guard,” she said on the phone from the Ain Zara detention center. She was worried about her safety and only revealed her name. “They burned down the tent, burned everything down.”

A government spokesperson did not answer calls and messages seeking comment.

According to the United Nations, during the crackdown in October, the Libyan authorities rounded up more than 5,000 migrants, including hundreds of children and women, and dozens of them were pregnant. At the time, the authorities described it as a security operation against illegal immigration and drug trafficking. The detained migrants were taken to overcrowded detention centers, which aroused strong protests from the United Nations and human rights organizations.

Since the 2011 NATO-backed uprising toppled and killed long-time dictator Moammar Gadhafi, oil-rich Libya has been in chaos. In recent years, this North African country has become a major transit point for immigrants fleeing war and poverty in Africa and the Middle East. The East hopes to live a better life in Europe.

Traffickers take advantage of the chaos and often squeeze desperate families into poorly equipped rubber or wooden boats, stranding and sinking on dangerous routes in the central Mediterranean. Thousands of people drowned on the way, others were intercepted and returned to Libya.

People detained on land and others returning to shore are often taken to government-run detention centers, which are full of torture, sexual assault and other ill-treatment. In October, investigators commissioned by the United Nations stated that the torture and abuse of migrants at sea, in detention centers and at the hands of Libyan traffickers constituted crimes against humanity.