One of the detained is Ahmed Saleh Ibrahim, a 19-year-old Sudanese who made his way into Libya with the help of smugglers last year. He was arrested by an immigration patrol in the eastern city of Benghazi and moved from one detention center to another until he was brought to Sabha, 650 kilometers (400 miles) south of the capital, Tripoli, four months ago.
“There’s little food, and at night there are a lot of mosquitoes, and the place is dirty,” Ibrahim recently told The Associated Press.
Mohamed Jibril, the center’s deputy manager, admits they lack “a lot of things, including a water supply,” a generator and a clinic.
The center consists of three buildings and can hold up to 45 migrants, but has less now after about 20 were deported back to their countries, according to Jibril.
Ibrahim works daily at the center’s kitchen a spacious room where wall and floor tiles are covered with dirt. Like other migrants, he sleeps on a sponge mattress or a blanket spread on the ground in a hall with grey-painted walls covered with graffiti mostly with religious messages, both Christian and Muslim the work of migrants who passed through.
The migrants are given access to phones to call their families back home only when representatives of the International Organization for Migration visit, he said.
Libya became a major conduit for African migrants and refugees fleeing to Europe after the 2011 uprising that ousted and killed longtime ruler Moammar Gadhafi. The EU has spent hundreds of millions of euros to equip and train Libya’s coast guard and to improve the conditions of the detention centers.
The migrants have also been caught in the ongoing war between Libya’s U.N.-backed government based in Tripoli and the self-styled Libyan National Army led by commander Khalifa Hifter, who launched an offensive to capture the capital in April. The U.N. said in May it feared detention centers were being used to store weapons, effectively turning migrants into human shields.
On July 3, more than 50 migrants were killed in an airstrike on the Tajoura detention center. The Tripoli government blamed Hifter’s forces for the deaths.