TRIPOLI: African migrants gather at a makeshift shelter in the capital Tripoli’s suburb of Ain Zara. Libya is a key departure point for tens of thousands of migrants, mainly from sub-Saharan Africa, hoping to reach Europe. – AFP

TRIPOLI: A further 25 unidentified bodies have been found in mass graves in the Libyan town of Tarhuna, Libyan authorities said, following years of brutal militia rule. The farming town was controlled for years by the Kaniyat militia, run by six brothers who imposed their dominance by slaughtering opponents and their entire families. Around 200 bodies have so far been found, according to the department for uncovering the remains, which said another “five graves were discovered” containing another 25 corpses.

The latest grim finds come after another 10 bodies were uncovered on October 4. On the same day, a UN fact-finding mission found that all parties to Libya’s decade-long conflict have violated international humanitarian law since 2016, with some possibly guilty of war crimes. Mass graves were initially discovered in Tarhuna in June 2020 following the withdrawal of forces of Khalifa Haftar, an eastern Libya-based military chief who had spent a year trying to seize Tripoli.

The Kaniyat, members of the Kani family, had after seizing control of the town in 2015 then allied with Haftar, providing him with a rear base for his Tripoli operation which he launched in 2019. The group “often abducted, detained, tortured, killed, and disappeared people who opposed them or who were suspected of doing so”, according to residents’ testimonies cited by Human Rights Watch. Members of the Kaniyat have been sanctioned by the United States and Britain.

Their chief Mohamed Al-Kani was shot dead in the eastern city of Benghazi in July and others are rumored to have fled east or abroad, reports that are not possible to verify. Libya has seen a decade of violence since the fall in 2011 of dictator Muammar Gaddafi in a NATO-backed rebellion, with a myriad of militias and foreign forces becoming involved. A ceasefire between eastern and western powers after Haftar’s defeat last year paved the way for a UN-led political transition, with a unity government taking power this year to lead Libya to elections.

Libya detention
At least 1,000 women and children in detention centers in the Libyan capital are “at immediate risk”, the UN children’s agency warned on Tuesday. “Around 751 women and 255 children were among the thousands of migrants and asylum seekers caught up in recent mass arrests” in Tripoli this month, UNICEF said in a statement. “Five unaccompanied children and at least 30 infants” were among those detained, it said.

The women and children’s “safety and well-being… is at immediate risk”, the statement warned. Libyan authorities carried out sweeping raids in Tripoli, mostly targeting irregular migrants, earlier this month. Doctors without Borders said at least 5,000 migrants and refugees were swept up in the “violent mass arrests” and detained in squalid conditions.

The operation, which authorities said targeted organized crime and drug trafficking, left at least one person dead and 15 wounded, according to the UN Support Mission in Libya. “Migrant and refugee children in Libya continue to face grave child rights violations including arbitrary detention,” acting UNICEF special representative to Libya Cristina Brugiolo said. “Children are held under devastating and inhumane conditions in these detention centers,” she said in a statement. “We can assume the actual number of children held may be much higher as many boys are reportedly placed in cells with adult males,” she added.

Following the raids, the International Organization for Migration said last week that guards shot dead six migrants at the Al-Mabani detention facility in the Libyan capital, while at least 24 others were wounded. Libyan officials said some 2,000 migrants escaped in the chaos. UNICEF said the Al-Mabani detention centre, which it identified as Libya’s largest, “is holding more than 5,000 people-four times its official capacity-including 100 children and 300 women”. The statement urged the Libyan authorities “to protect children and prevent their separation from their parents, caregivers and families”.

Hundreds of migrants and asylum-seekers, accompanied by young children, have been holding a sit-in in front of the office of the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) near Tripoli for several days. The UNHCR on Tuesday said it was “extremely worried about the continued suffering of migrants and asylum seekers in Libya”. Libya is a key departure point for tens of thousands of migrants, mainly from sub-Saharan Africa, hoping to reach Europe. Human traffickers have profited from Libya’s decade of chaos following the 2011 revolution to carve out a lucrative but brutal trade. – AFP