9 April 2021, Tripoli, Libya – One person was killed and two were injured in the early hours of 8 April after a shooting took place in a Tripoli detention centre where refugees and migrants are held. Two teenagers aged 17 and 18 with gunshot wounds were transferred for urgent medical care by a team from international medical organisation Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF). Tensions had been rising in the severely overcrowded Al-Mabani Collection and Return Centre on the night of the incident, according to reports received by MSF, culminating in shots being fired indiscriminately into cells where detained people were held.
“This shooting demonstrates the grave risks that people face while locked up in these detention centres for an indefinite period of time,” says Ellen van der Velden, MSF’s operational manager for Libya. “This latest act of violence is a clear corroboration that detention centres are dangerous places for people to be.”
In recent weeks, MSF medical teams have witnessed mounting tensions inside detention centres in Libya, where refugees and migrants – including women, children and unaccompanied minors – are held against their will in deplorable conditions. The centres have become increasingly overcrowded since early February when there was a rise in active interceptions of migrants and refugees fleeing Libya by sea by the EU-funded Libyan Coast Guard. This contributed to an unmanageable surge in numbers of people held in detention centres across Tripoli – and in Al-Mabani in particular – resulting in a rapid deterioration in living conditions.
In the first week of February, the number of people held in Al-Mabani rose from 300 to 1,000 within a few days. The centre currently holds some 1,500 people.
As in many other detention centres, people detained in Al-Mabani have minimal natural light and ventilation, insufficient food and clean drinking water, and a lack of hygiene facilities. Severe overcrowding – with as many as three people per square metre – often leaves no space even to lie down. Infectious diseases such as scabies and tuberculosis are rife. Physical distancing in relation to COVID-19 is impossible.
This is not the first time that detained refugees and migrants have been exposed to violence. Shootings and deaths have been reported in recent months, while MSF teams have witnessed the use of physical force by guards. In February alone, MSF medics treated 36 detainees for fractures, blunt traumas, abrasions, eye injuries, gunshot wounds and limb weakness in various detention centres; 15 of these patients were referred by MSF to hospitals for further treatment. The injuries were recent, indicating that they had been sustained while inside the detention centres.
Authorities at Al-Mabani have reportedly opened an investigation into this incident. MSF calls on the authorities to share the outcome of this investigation with the humanitarian community and to hold accountable those found responsible.
In the light of this event, MSF reiterates its calls for an end to the practice of arbitrary detention in Libya, for the immediate release of all those detained, and for the provision of safe shelters and access to basic services for refugees and migrants.
MSF has worked in Libyan detention centres since 2016, providing general and psychological healthcare and emergency referrals to hospital, to alleviate the suffering of refugees, asylum seekers and migrants who are arbitrarily detained and to expose the inhumane conditions of detention.