CAIRO – Libyan authorities rounded up thousands of mostly Egyptian migrants and amassed them at the border, activists said Saturday, as Libya continued its crackdown on migrants.
The migrants were detained in raids over the past two days on trafficking warehouses in the border town of Musaid and other areas in eastern Libya, said Tarik Lamloum, an activist with the Belaady Organization for Human Rights.
Libya is the dominant transit point for migrants from Africa and the Middle East trying to make it to Europe. The country plunged into chaos following a NATO-backed uprising that toppled and killed longtime autocrat Moammar Gadhafi in 2011. Oil-rich Libya has been ruled for most of the past decade by rival governments in eastern and western Libya, each backed by an array of militias and foreign governments.
Human traffickers have benefited from the chaos in Libya and smuggled migrants through the country’s lengthy border with six nations. They then pack desperate migrants seeking a better life in Europe into ill-equipped rubber boats and other vessels in risky voyages on the perilous Central Mediterranean Sea route.
Lamloum and another local group, al-Abreen, which helps migrants in Libya, estimated that more than 6,000 migrants have been held at the border. Most of the migrants are Egyptians who were taken to the customs hangar of the Musaid crossing point with Egypt, awaiting their deportation to their home country, they said.
The Security Directorate of Benghazi, which oversees the police force, reported the raids on migrants in Musaid but gave no further details. It also said they detained five suspected traffickers, including four Libyans and Bengal, on a Europe-bound boat carrying eight other Bengalis.
A spokesman for the forces of military commander Khalifa Hifter, which control eastern Libya, did not answer phone calls and messages seeking comment.
Al-Abreen posted footage showing large numbers of migrants guarded by security officers, while being marched on foot to the Musaid crossing point. Other footage shows dozens of migrants it said had been freed from a traffickers’ warehouse.
Esreiwa Salah, an activist with al-Abreen, described the situation at the hangar where the migrants have been held as “tragic.”
“The situation is bad and tragic,” he said over the phone from Benghazi. “The area is not equipped (to host detained migrants). "
Many Egyptian migrants were released and deported to Egypt on Friday according to Mahdi el-Omda, a former Egyptian lawmaker who along with other tribal elders in the western Egyptian city of Matrouh mediated the migrants’ release with Libyan authorities in Musaid.
The detained migrants include Syrians, Sudanese, Pakistanis and Bengals who legally entered Libya over the years through the Benina airport in the eastern city of Benghazi, Lamloum said.
Authorities rounded up at least 400 other migrants from Pakistan and Bangladesh from eastern Libya and took them to the Qanfouda detention center where they await deportation, Lamloum said.
The campaign in eastern Libya comes as raids continue in the country’s western cities on migrants following clashes between Nigerien and Sudanese migrants in the town of Zuwara. The surfacing of a video in April showing migrants torturing and murdering a Libyan national also fueled anti-migrant sentiment, according to an internal report by the U.N. refugee agency.
Drone raids were carried out on what the government in the capital of Tripoli said were trafficking warehouses in the towns of Zawiya and Maya, major hubs for migrants and fuel smuggling in western Libya, officials said.
The UNHCR report, seen by The Associated Press, said the crackdown on migrants in Tripoli and other western towns resulted in the detention of 1,800 migrants over the past month. Most of them were transferred to government-run detention centers for migrants or were in the process of moving from other facilities, the UNHCR said.
Such migrant detention centers are rife with abuses, including forced labor, beatings, rapes and torture — practices that amount to crimes against humanity, according to U.N.-commissioned investigators.
The U.N. report expected that the crackdown on migrants “will continue to expand and target more areas within Tripoli and beyond.”