Date: Wednesday, 05 September 2018
Migrants in a shelter who were relocated from government-run detention centres after being trapped by clashes between rival groups in Tripoli, Libya. Photograph: Hani Amara/Reuters
For refugees and migrants in Libyan detention centres, a phone marks the difference between life and death. They’re carefully hidden, topped up by contacts in other parts of Libya, and charged in secret, wherever electricity can be found.
At no time has this been more obvious than since fighting broke out 10 days ago.
As a state of emergency continues in Tripoli, and fighting escalates quickly, thousands of migrants and refugees previously held in detention centres have been scattered across the city, all desperate to stay alive.
The Irish Times is in touch with at least five groups, who have used smartphones to message about everything from a lack of food, to looters, bomb blasts and attacks by armed men, to how they feel they’ve been abandoned by the United Nations and other international organisations.
Since fighting erupted on August 26th, between rival armed militias vying for control of Tripoli, many of the estimated 8,000 refugees and migrants in official detention centres have been “released”, moved to different locations, or have escaped and are now sleeping on the streets.
Many were never registered by the UN – despite regularly asking for it – and detention centre managers say they have no lists of who exactly was in their centres. This means it is impossible to know the number that have already disappeared.
Some aid workers suggest detention centres obscure this information deliberately. Migrants and refugees have been known to pay their way out (the going rate is $20,000 [€17,000]said one Eritrean) or they’ve been sold to traffickers or to rich Libyans as slaves. A migrant can be sold as forced labour for as much as $600, said a Libyan aid worker. Now the fighting is fierce, consequences can prove deadly.