The UN human rights office (OHCHR) reports of migrants and refugees left “effectively to die” in the Zintan detention Centre. As more people flee abuse and danger in the conflict ridden North African country the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) warns of the Mediterranean turning into a “sea of blood”.

OHCHR, expresses deep concern about the conditions in the Zintan detention centre south of Tripoli where 22 people have died of tuberculosis and other diseases since September, and the detained are facing “inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment”. The capital is currently the scene of clashes between forces loyal to the Tripoli government and forces loyal to the parallel administration in Benghazi. The OHCHR further states that “people are being sent to a different place near the front line effectively to die there”. The UN organisation is also concerned about “ongoing reports of disappearances and human trafficking” of people intercepted and returned by the Libyan Coast Guard. 82 people were reportedly intercepted on June 11 off the coast of Garabulli, northeast of Tripoli and returned to Libya.

UNHCR warns that the risk of death at the Mediterranean is the highest it has ever been given the combined factors of the conflict in Libya, the lack of NGO search and rescue ships, and the favorable weather conditions enabling departures. Carlotta Sami, the spokeswoman for UNHCR in Italy stated: “If we do not intervene soon, there will be a sea of blood”. A recent Statewatch analysis outlines how the European Commission and Italian Ministry of Interior “are trying to assert the fiction of a Libyan SAR zone […] in order to neutralise concerns over both the north African country’s status as an unsafe place and their own humanitarian obligations” to save lives in the Mediterranean.

The responsibility of the EU and some member states for deaths on the Mediterranean, refoulement and subsequent abuse in Libya is the topic of a legal submission to the International Criminal Court.

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Photo: (CC) NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, April 2013, Tripoli

This article appeared in the ECRE Weekly Bulletin . You can subscribe to the Weekly Bulletin here.