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UN envoy slams EU blindness to plight of migrants in Libya after strikes on detention center

Iran Press TV

Thu Jul 4, 2019 03:15PM

The UN has lambasted the EU's "blindness" on the plight of refugees in Libya, urging a rethink of returning Europe-bound migrants intercepted at the Mediterranean to the North African country.

UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in the Mediterranean Vincent Cochetel made the remarks on Thursday, two days after airstrikes on a migrant detention center at Tajoura near capital Tripoli killed 44 people.

According to a controversial agreement reached between the EU and the Libyan coastguard, the intercepted migrants must be returned to Libya and held at detention centers, in conditions which the UN has described as "ghastly."

"There is a certain blindness among European countries about the situation of migrants in Libya, which has been deteriorating for months," Cochetel .

The commissioner said the recent fighting in Libya has created an even worse situation. "It cannot be business as usual in terms of this cooperation on returns to Libya," Cochetel said.

The UN says more than 2,300 illegal migrants have been intercepted at sea and brought back to Libya since January.

The airstrikes on Tuesday night, which also wounded 80 people, have been blamed by the detention center's officials on militiamen loyal to the renegade commander of the self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA), Khalifa Haftar.

The ill-fated detention center was in fact a former military camp and it is highly likely that it was mistaken for an operating military camp run by the other warring side in the country.

"This is a tragic event which could have been avoided (as) we had passed on to all parties the GPS coordinates of all the detention camps," Cochetel added.

Libya has been divided between two rival governments, the House of Representatives, based in the eastern city of Tobruk, and the internationally-recognized government of Fayez al-Serraj, or the Tripoli-based unity Government of National Accord (GNA).

Haftar, who is presumably loyal to the government in the east, launched a deadly campaign on April 4 to invade and conquer Tripoli, the seat of the GNA, resulting in repeated fierce clashes, particularly on the southern edges of the capital, leaving over 700 people killed so far.

"We have been repeatedly saying that people should not be returned to Libya because people disappear between the points of disembarkation and the detention centers. Some people are taken to the detention centers where they are mistreated and held arbitrarily while others end up being rented out or sold to business people," Cochetel said.

Separately, the African Union, the EU and the UN jointly issued a statement on the tragic event of Tajoura detention center and called "on all sides in the conflict to respect international humanitarian law and call for an immediate investigation into this attack."

Libya has been the scene of increasing violence since 2011, when former dictator Muammar Gaddafi was toppled from power after an uprising and a NATO military intervention.

His ouster created a huge power vacuum, leading to chaos and the emergence of numerous militant outfits, including the Daesh terrorist group.

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