By Francesca Merlo
At least 44 people have died after an airstrike hit a detention facility where migrants are being held outside the Libyan capital, Tripoli.
A civil war has been raging in Libya since 2014, where General Khalifa Haftar of the Tobruk-led government has control over the vast majority of the country. The airstrike was carried out by pro-Haftar forces over one of the few areas of the country not under the control of General Haftar’s Army.
The attack, which also injured over 130 people, is being described by the UN’s Mission in Libya, as one that “clearly could constitute a war crime, as it killed by surprise innocent people whose dire conditions forced them to be in that shelter”.
These shelters are at times referred to as refugee and migrant camps whilst others find torture camps to be more a more appropriate term as those residing in them are victims of both mental and physical forms of torture.
Between internally displaced people from the ongoing civil war in Libya and migrants fleeing wars, hunger and poverty in other African countries, the number of migrants currently seeking shelter in the North African country is almost 700,000. Of these, around 6000 are believed to be held in these camps, living in what many human rights groups have defined as inhumane conditions.
A huge number of those crossing the African deserts to reach Libya, often on foot, are already victims of horrific acts of violence, at times kidnapped by human traffickers along their journey. They cross the continent in hope of using Libya’s port as a gateway to Europe. Instead, they are either placed in camps, where they are raped and tortured. Or after paying what little they have left to board an unsafe boat headed for Southern Europe they are either intercepted by Libyan coast guards and sent back to the camps, or they are ‘saved’ by rescue ships who are in turn rejected by European countries.
Pope Francis, who has made the importance of the protection of migrants and refugees one of the mainstays of his pontificate, noted on Tuesday that “today’s world is increasingly becoming more elitist and cruel towards the excluded”.
Ahead of July 8th, when Pope Francis will preside over mass for migrants and refugees, the Holy Father has condemned the “complicit silence” of so many and urged for less “calculations” and more “solidarity and mercy” when responding to today’s phenomenon of migration.