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Guards at a Libyan detention center for migrants shot and killed at least six people amid chaos in the overcrowded facility, UN officials said Saturday as they again condemned widespread abuses against migrants in the North African country.
The development comes a week after authorities rounded up more than 5,000 migrants in a massive crackdown and after UN-commissioned investigators said abuses and ill treatment of migrants in Libya amount to crimes against humanity.
The shooting took place Friday in the Mabani detention center west of the capital, Tripoli, where authorities earlier this month sent 4,187 new detainees, including 511 women and 60 children, according to the International Organization for Migration.
A spokesman for Libya’s Interior Ministry, which oversees migrant detention centers, didn’t respond to requests for comment.
It wasn’t immediately clear what triggered the violence. But Vincent Cochetel, the UN refugee agency’s special envoy for the Central Mediterranean, said “human rights violations and inhuman conditions” at Libya’s overcrowded detention centers led to the mayhem, which included “indiscriminate shooting.”
Cochetel urged the European Union and UN to impose sanctions on those implicated in the abuses against migrants, especially after the findings of UN-commissioned investigators.
“Some individuals bear special responsibility for the human rights abuses committed either because they are directly involved in them or because they cover them under their authority. It is time for the UN and the EU sanctions committee to take action and list some individuals,” he told The Associated Press.
Federico Soda, the head of IOM’s mission in Libya, said at least six migrants were shot dead by guards.
Footage circulated online purporting to show hundreds of migrants fleeing the detention center through a gap in the facility fence.
Some were seen helping apparently injured fellow migrants. Other videos showed large numbers of migrants running through the streets in Tripoli.
Gabriel Akoulong, 24, of Cameroon, was among the fleeing migrants. He was detained in the crackdown in the western town of Gargaresh, a major hub for migrants in Libya, and imprisoned in Mabani.
“They put us into crowded cells where we couldn’t even breathe. There was no food, no water, no oxygen,” he said.
During the escape, some migrants fell and were caught by Libyan guards who beat them. Some of the migrants trying to flee were shot, he said.
“I still ask myself why we have been detained and imprisoned,” he told the AP in a phone interview from Tripoli where he was in hiding.
Earlier this week, many migrants attempted to flee from the Mabani center, but they were met “with extreme violence,” said medical aid group Doctors without Borders, which was granted a rare visit to the center.
The group, also known by its French acronym MSF, said its visiting team “heard two rounds of heavy gunfire at very close range and witnessed the indiscriminate beating of a group of men who were later forced into vehicles and driven to an unknown destination.”
More than 5,000 migrants were rounded up in the crackdown earlier this month, including 215 were children and more than 540 women, at least 30 of whom were pregnant, according to the IOM. The crackdown, which left one migrant dead and 15 others injured, began Oct. 1 in Gargaresh and spread to surrounding areas.
Libyan authorities described the crackdown as a security operation against illegal migration and drug trafficking. But they made no mention of any traffickers or smugglers being arrested.
Hours before Friday’s chaos in Mabani, the UN refugee agency said authorities demolished many buildings and makeshift houses for migrants during the crackdown.—Agencies