UN migration agency on Monday said it was trying to assist large numbers of migrants held in smuggling hub of Libya’s Sabratha as rival factions battled for control of the city.
Othman Belbeisi, the Libya Chief of Mission, International Organisation for Migration (IOM) said
in a statement that no fewer than 4,000 migrants, including pregnant women, newborn babies and unaccompanied children, were transferred.
Belbeisi further said they were transferred from informal camps and dormitories to a hangar in the city since the clashes ended on Friday.
“We are seriously concerned by the large number of migrants caught up in recent developments in Sabratha,” Belbeisi noted.
He added that Sabratha had been the most common point of departure for mostly sub-Saharan African migrants trying to cross the Mediterranean by boat from Libya.
However, the number of crossings dropped sharply in July after an armed group struck a deal with officials from the UN-backed government in Tripoli to block departures, under pressure from Italy and other EU member states.
It set off three weeks of fighting among rival factions which ended with the withdrawal of the armed group.
The local officials also added that the migrants who have since been rounded up were being held at sites that the group had controlled.
Some migrants are being sent on to detention centres elsewhere in western Libya that are nominally under the control of the Tripoli government.
IOM officials say those centres, which were housing some 5,000 migrants, risk being overwhelmed by the new arrivals.
Conditions in the centres are often dire and abuse widespread.
“Alternatives to detention must be found for migrants in Libya.
“In the meantime, IOM continues to provide direct humanitarian, health and psychosocial assistance to meet the urgent needs of the thousands of migrants being affected,” Belbeisi said.
Local sources have previously said that an estimated 10,000 migrants were being held in the Sabratha area.
The head of Sabratha’s department for countering illegal migration told Reuters on Saturday that help was urgently needed as some migrants had received no food or water for six days.