800 migrants and refugees held in a dangerously overcrowded detention centre in Zuwara, Libya

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GENEVA, Switzerland

International medical humanitarian organization Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF) is highly concerned about the fate of around 800 migrants and refugees held in a dangerously overcrowded detention center in the port city of Zuwara, rougly 100 kilometres west of Tripoli.

Some of the men, women and children inside have been detained in inhumane conditions for more than five months without adequate food or water.

Since the start of the MSF emergency team’s intervention on 18 April, there have been more than 500 people newly detained in a facility that was already overcrowded.

At present the Zuwara detention center is four times over capacity with floor space so limited that it is barely possible for people to lie down. With each day that passes, the situation deteriorates further with an increasing number of refugees and migrants arbitrarily detained.

A large number of refugees, migrants and asylum-seekers in Zuwara have already endured alarming levels of violence and exploitation in Libya and during harrowing journeys from their home countries. Some of the people brought to the detention center were malnourished on arrival as they had been held captive by smuggling networks in the area.

“The situation is critical” said Karline Kleijer, Head of MSF’s emergency desk. “We strongly urge all international agencies with a presence in Libya, representatives from countries of origin and the Libyan authorities to do everything they can to find a solution for these people over the next few days.”

On Tuesday, the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) airlifted 88 people in need of international protection out of Zuwara and took them to a detention center in Tripoli with a view to identifying the most vulnerable cases for potential evacuation abroad.

The Libyan authorities have transferred some people to other detention centers in an attempt to reduce the extreme overcrowding, and the UN Migration Agency (IOM) started the process of “voluntary humanitarian return” for some detainees. However hundreds of people remain inside the detention center in Zuwara with no solution in sight.

“MSF calls again for an end to the arbitrary detention of refugees, asylum-seekers and migrants in Libya.” said Kleijer. MSF UK urges the UK Government to end its support for the deterrence and containment policies which indefinitely trap refugees, asylum seekers, and migrants in such inhumane conditions in Libya.