More than 360 people on Tuesday participated in a hunger strike that started over the weekend at the Tajoura migrant detention centre on the outskirts of the Libyan capital, Tripoli, Reuters reported.
This comes as the World Health Organization (WHO) says that more than 1,000 people have been killed and over 5,500 have been injured since fighting in Tripoli broke out in April.
According to a Libyan migration official, migrants being held at the Tajoura centre said they want the United Nations to guarantee their safety after two airstrikes hit the facility last Tuesday, killing more than 50 people and wounding another 130.
Fighting in Tripoli has been fierce since the Libyan National Army (LNA), led by General Khalifa Haftar, launched an offensive in April for the control of Tripoli. In a stalemated conflict, Haftar’s forces are battling militias backed by Libya’s internationally-recognised government.
No one claimed responsibility for the attack on the refugee centre, which may have been caught in the crossfire as it is located near Tripoli’s only functioning airport.
Tripoli’s Government of National Accord (GNA) blamed the attack on Haftar’s forces, who in turn accused the GNA of carrying out the airstrike.
Mahmoud Taweer, a spokesperson for the Tajoura centre, told the German news agency (DPA) that the detainees are refusing to sleep indoors, out of fear of attacks during the night. Many of those killed were crushed when the building’s roof collapsed.
At the time of the attack, 600 migrants were being held at the centre.
“A UN delegation visited the centre to persuade them to end the hunger strike, but to no avail,” Taweer said. He added that the migrants do not want to be transferred to another centre because they are afraid it would delay their journey out of Libya.
According to figures from the International Organization for Migration (IOM), at least 5,200 people are currently being held in official detention centres in Libya.
After Libyan dictator, Muammar al-Gaddafi, was toppled in 2011, the country became a major transit point for migrants fleeing from the Middle East and sub-Saharan Africa to Europe.
Thousands of migrants captured by Libyan forces are being held in detention centres near the frontlines.
On Friday, the UN Security Council called for both sides to de-escalate tensions. As the death toll rises, the WHO has said it is continuing to send doctors and medical supplies to help hospitals treat patients.
“Our teams have performed more than 1,700 surgeries in three months,” the WHO said in a statement.
The fighting has also caused civilians to desert entire neighbourhoods, and the battle lines have slightly changed since fighting began. In the southern part of Tripoli, both sides are dug in and firing artillery at one another.
Rights groups and UN agencies have repeatedly warned against bombing migrant centres and other civilian buildings, since armed men attacked a shelter in April in southern Tripoli, leaving several people injured.
Haftar’s supporters have said he is the only leader who can end militia rule and restore stability to Libya. However, his opponents have countered that he is a strongman who wants to establish a military dictatorship.