UP TO 40 people were killed and 80 injured in an air-strike on the Tajoura Detention Centre, on the outskirts of the Libyan capital Tripoli, on Tuesday night.
The Government of National Accord, which is backed by the United Nations, accused the self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA) of carrying out the air strike on the centre, which houses about 600 migrants, including women and children.
In a joint statement issued on Wednesday, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said that the attack “speaks to the deep concerns . . . over the safety of people in detention centres”, and to “the danger both IOM and UNHCR have warned over returning migrants and refugees to Libya after their interception or rescue on the Mediterranean Sea”.
It said that, given the high number of people injured in the attack, the number of dead was likely to increase.
The statement called for “an immediate end to detention of migrants and refugees” and “a full and independent investigation . . . to determine how this happened and who was responsible, and to bring those individuals to account”.
The organisations have dispatched medical teams to the area.
Last month, the UNHCR said that migrants and refugees being held in Libya were facing “ghastly conditions” and “horrific abuses.
A spokesman, Rupert Colville, said that many of those being held were dying of tuberculosis, facing semi-starvation, or simply disappearing, having become victims of human trafficking, including sexual exploitation.
He called on the government of Libya to investigate urgently the disappearance of hundreds of refugees and migrants from some of its detention facilities.
UN representatives had visited one detention centre in Libya, and found residents malnourished, deprived of water, and locked in overcrowded warehouses with overflowing latrines, he said.
“The conditions at Zintan Detention Centre amount to inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment, and may also amount to torture,” he said.
He had received reports of some Christians being sent to a detention centre near the front line in Libya’s conflict, as there were no burial facilities for Christians.
The UN estimates that about 3400 migrants and refugees are detained in Tripoli, although some aid groups have suggested that the real figure could be as high as 10,000.
The international medical charity Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) has demanded that migrants be evacuated immediately as part of a humanitarian mission to Libya.
“There are no safe places in Libya to take these migrants and refugees in order to remove them from the risk of conflict,” the MSF head of mission in Libya, Sam Turner, said last week.
MSF and Human Rights Watch have blamed the EU’s own policies for contributing to the abuse through their system, which offers support to the Libyan coastguard to enable it to intercept migrants and asylum-seekers at sea, after which they are taken into detention in Libya.
MSF said that the EU’s policy of encouraging the Libyan coastguard was “flawed”.
“Where the EU, Italy, and other governments have knowingly contributed significantly to the abuses of detainees, they have been complicit in those abuses,” Human Rights Watch warned.
Libya has faced ongoing conflict and instability since the fall of its former ruler Muammar Gaddafi eight years ago, and the UN has described it as on the “verge of civil war” between the Libyan National Army, led by General Khalifa Haftar, and the Government of National Accord.