UN evacuates 325 refugees out of Tripoli as clashes continue

More than 300 people moved from detention facility in the capital to northwestern Libya, the UN's refugee agency says.

    About 3,000 refugees and migrants remain trapped in detention centres in Tripoli, according to the UN [File: EPA]
    About 3,000 refugees and migrants remain trapped in detention centres in Tripoli, according to the UN [File: EPA]

    The United Nations refugee agency evacuated 325 refugees from a detention centre on the southern outskirts of Tripoli amid escalating violence near the Libyan capital.

    UNHCR said in a statement on Wednesday those rescued from the Qasr bin Ghashir centre were transported to another detention facility in Az-Zawiyah, northwestern Libya, where they were "at reduced risk of being caught up" in ongoing fighting between renegade military commander Khalifa Haftar's eastern forces and troops loyal to the UN-recognised Government of National Accord (GNA).

    The move was triggered by reports on Tuesday of the use of armed violence against detainees who were protesting against the conditions in which they were being held, UNHCR said, with 12 refugees requiring hospital treatment after being attacked.

    Wednesday's evacuation brings to 825 the number of refugees and migrants transferred further from clashes in four operations in the last two weeks, the agency added.

    "The dangers for refugees and migrants in Tripoli have never been greater than they are at present," said Matthew Brook, UNHCR's deputy chief of mission in Libya.

    About 3,000 refugees and migrants remain trapped in detention centres in Tripoli, according to the UN, and remain at risk from the "deteriorating security situation" around the capital. Many of the detainees fled war and persecution in their home countries.

    Hundreds killed, thousands displaced

    Tripoli's southern outskirts have been engulfed by fighting since Haftar's Libyan National Army (LNA) launched an offensive on April 4 aimed at wresting control of the capital from the GNA, which is supported by an array of local militias.

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    The showdown threatens to further destabilise war-wracked Libya, which splintered into a patchwork of rival power bases following the NATO-backed overthrow of former leader Muammar Gaddafi in 2011 and has been split into rival eastern and western administrations since 2014.

    Both the LNA and GNA have repeatedly carried out air raids against one another and accuse each other's forces of targeting civilians.

    At least 272 have been killed and more than 1,200 others wounded since the LNA started its offensive earlier this month, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

    At least 36,000 people have been forced to flee their homes because of the conflict, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) said on Wednesday.

    UN conference cancelled

    The violence has forced the UN to abandon its plans for a conference aimed at brokering an agreement to hold elections as part of a solution to Libya's long-running political crisis.

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    The meeting was scheduled to bring Haftar and GNA Prime Minister Fayez al-Serraj together in the country's southwestern town of Ghadames from April 14 to 16.

    Haftar, who casts himself as a foe of "extremism" but is viewed by opponents as a new authoritarian leader in the mould of Gaddafi, has vowed to continue his offensive until Libya is "cleansed" of "terrorism".

    Al-Sarraj said last week the international community needs to be "united and firm" in supporting him and warned some 800,000 migrants and refugees, as well as Libyan nationals, could flee across the Mediterranean to Europe's shores if the instability in Libya continues.

    The UN puts the number of people in Libya who have fled their homelands at more than 700,000.

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    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies