The U.N. refugee agency is calling for an immediate end to bringing migrants trying to cross the Mediterranean back to Libya after an airstrike hit a detention centre, killing at least 44 people and wounding more than 130.
Charlie Yaxley, spokesperson for the UNHCR, noted that the agency had warned less than two months ago that anyone inside the Tajoura detention centre was at risk of being caught in the fighting around Tripoli. Then, an airstrike that hit nearby injured two migrants among more than 500 people detained there.
Yaxley says UNHCR is sending medical teams to the site after the latest airstrike.
The United Nations envoy to Libya, Ghassan Salame, condemned the airstrike on Wednesday, saying in a statement that the attack “clearly amounts to the level of a war crime.”
WATCH: (Feb. 2019) Migrants in Libya detention camps left in limbo
Europe is equipping and training the Libyan coast guard, which has intercepted thousands of migrants in the Mediterranean and taken them back to detention centres in Libya, where many languish without sufficient food or medical care.
Earlier, Malek Merset, a spokesman for the health ministry of the U.N.-supported government, says the airstrike on the Tajoura detention centre also wounded 80 migrants.
In a statement, the U.N.-supported government blamed the self-styled Libyan National Army, led by commander Khalifa Hifter, for the airstrike.
Libya is split between two warring governments and Hifter’s forces control much of the country’s east and south.
At least 6,000 migrants from Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia, Sudan and other nations are locked in dozens of detention facilities in Libya run by militias accused of torture and other abuses. Most of the migrants were apprehended by European Union-funded and -trained Libyan coast guards while trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea to Europe.
The detention centres have limited food and other supplies for the migrants, who often end up there after arduous journeys at the mercy of abusive traffickers who hold them for ransom money from families back home.
The U.N. refugee agency has said that more than 3,000 migrants are in danger because they are held in detention centres close to the front lines.
— With a file from Reuters