SHARM EL-SHEIKH, Egypt (AP) — Libyan security forces raided and violently broke up a protest sit-in by migrants outside a shuttered U.N. community center in the capital of Tripoli, activists and migrants said Monday.
The troops came overnight, smashed up the protest site and arrested hundreds, said activist Tarik Lamloum. Those detained were sent to a detention center in the nearby town of Ain Zara. Others managed to flee from the raid, he said.
Lamloum, who works with the local Belaady Organization for Human Rights, said at least one migrant community leader was shot during the raid.
The migrants, including women and children, had camped outside the center in Tripoli since October, seeking protection following a massive crackdown on migrants, and demanding better treatment at the hands of Libyan authorities.
Aiysha, a Sudanese migrant, was part of the sit-in protest along with her family since October. The mother of two said police beat and detained migrants. She was among those detained.
“We were caught off guard,” she said, speaking by phone from the detention center in Ain Zara. She gave only her first name, fearing for her safety. “They burned the tents, burned everything.”
The Norwegian Refugee Council and the International Rescue Committee said more than 600 migrants were detained in the raid.
“This is the culmination of a disastrous situation that has deteriorated” since the mass detention of migrants in October, said Dax Roque, the NRC’s Libya director.
Both groups urged Libyan authorities to immediately release those detained and provide them protection from further violence.
A government spokesman did not answer phone calls and messages seeking comment.
In the October crackdown, Libyan authorities rounded up more than 5,000 migrants, including hundreds of children and women — dozens of them pregnant, according to the United Nations. Authorities at the time described it as a security operation against illegal migration and drug trafficking. The detained migrants were taken to overcrowded detention centers, prompting an outcry from the U.N. and human rights groups.
Oil-rich Libya has been engulfed in chaos since a NATO-backed uprising toppled and killed longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi in 2011. The North African country has in recent years emerged as the dominant transit point for migrants fleeing war and poverty in Africa and the Middle East, hoping for a better life in Europe.
Traffickers have exploited the chaos and often pack desperate families into ill-equipped rubber or wooden boats that stall and founder along the perilous Central Mediterranean route. Thousands have drowned along the way, others have been intercepted and returned to Libya.
Those detained on land and others returned to shore are often taken to government-run detention centers, rife with torture, sexual assault and other abuses. U.N.-commissioned investigators said in October that abuse and ill treatment of migrants at sea, in detention centers and at the hands of traffickers in Libya amount to crimes against humanity.