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Time running out for 800 migrants and refugees in Zuwara detention centre

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MSF is highly concerned about the fate of around 800 migrants and refugees held in a dangerously overcrowded detention centre in the port city of Zuwara, Libya around 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.

“The situation is critical,” says Karline Kleijer, head of MSF’s emergencies 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 1 May, the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) airlifted 88 people in need of international protection out of Zuwara and took them to a detention centre 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 centres in an attempt to reduce the extreme overcrowding and the International Organization for Migration has initiated a process of “voluntary humanitarian return” for some detainees. However, hundreds of people remain trapped inside the detention centre in Zuwara with no solution in sight.

The situation deteriorates further as each day passes, with an increasing number of refugees and migrants arbitrarily detained. 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 centre is four times over capacity with floor space so limited that it is barely possible for people to lie down.

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 centre were malnourished on arrival having been held captive by smuggling networks in the area.

“MSF calls again for an end to the arbitrary detention of refugees, asylum seekers and migrants in Libya,” says Kleijer.

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