Sally Hayden Profile picture
Aug 27, 2018 56 tweets 20 min read Twitter logo Read on Twitter
For the last 24 hours I've been texting & calling with refugees in Libya. 500 are apparently stuck in a Tripoli prison w/o food & water after heavy fighting broke out two days ago. They say their guards ran away, leaving them alone.
These refugees are men, women & children. They tried to cross the Mediterranean earlier this year, but were found by Italian boats, who turned them over to the EU-backed Libyan coastguard, who put them in prison. The conditions were already terrible before the fighting started.
Oh the phone earlier I could hear children crying & what sounded like bombing in the distance. The refugees say everyone's incredibly frightened. "We hear machine guns, tanks, big bombs, last night from the roof it was all fire."
A separate Tripoli source confirmed the fighting in the area, south of the city, & said he believes the prison entrances were blocked by sand blocks. Among the refugees are pregnant women. Those inside say another day w/o food & water could lead to deaths.
One refugee locked in the prison said this suffering is a failure of the EU, who turned them back, of the UN, which has barely helped them, & of Europeans for not realising they're humans with no other choice but to try & reach safety.
(Stopping now to write a story but I'll update more later.)
Update: migrants have reportedly been set free elsewhere in Tripoli because of the fighting, but hundreds are still trapped in a detention centre at Ain Zara without any assistance. The roads are closed & international NGOs I've contacted say they can't reach them.
Here's a photo taken from the detention centre earlier: you can see a fighter with an anti-aircraft gun outside. The refugees say even if they're set free they'd be afraid to leave. They could be caught by Libyan militias or ISIS.
Another update: The refugees said some Libyan guards came back & said they might move them somewhere else, but wouldn't say where. They're worried they're going to be sold on to a militia or into forced labour. They say many aren't registered with UNHCR.
I'm in touch with several NGOs on the ground who all confirmed there is fighting in the area. One said it could be a few days before it calms down & they can reach the detention centre. Meanwhile, I've lost touch with the refugees: it seems their phone battery has died.
The last thing they said was to appeal again for food & water. Here's how many they say were stuck inside:
Background: The EU-backed Libya-Italy deal began in February, 2017. It's been condemned by groups including Amnesty (…) & the ex UN human rights chief called it "inhuman" (…). C.20,000 migrants were forced back to Libya under it in 2017
Even before the fighting broke out, conditions were bad in the detention centre. Here's what they told me:
Another update: just got a desperate call from a refugee saying people have arrived with around 25 cars & said they are taking everyone there away. Refugees have no idea who the people are & are worried it's traffickers who will sell them on.
"They said you have to come with us, you will die if you stay here," he said. But refugees are refusing to move, they're so worried about being tortured/forced to pay ransoms again/sold into slave labour. They're begging for an international organisation to show up.
In the past (before trying to get to Europe this year), a refugee there told me he was tortured with electric shocks by traffickers, who forced his family to pay $12,000 in ransom, which they raised by collecting at church & begging friends & relatives for loans.
I'm in touch with several organisations in Libya who are saying they don't believe these cars were sent by a humanitarian organisation (meaning the refugees are in serious risk). The refugees have turned off the phone again to save battery, so it'll be a while until I hear more.
Another update. They reckon the people who came with cars were smugglers. They had weapons but civilian clothes. The Somalis went with them but Eritreans, Ethiopians & Sudanese are left behind, on their own again.
Final message from Tripoli. Just to reiterate, these are hundreds of refugees & asylum seekers who were sent back to Libya bc of EU policy. They're meant to be protected by the UN. Instead, they're alone, in the middle of a war zone, with no food/water & no idea what to do.
Another update: It's morning in Tripoli but the refugees left in Ain Zara say the gun fighting hasn't started yet, soldiers have gone & streets are eerily quiet. The remaining refugees (minus Somalis, who went with the suspected smugglers) didn't sleep for fear they'd be taken.
They say they urgently need water. "There's no food, no water. The children are crying. We are suffering, especially the children. We haven't slept in two days. We are waiting for some miracle. Tell them the people are dying here." As we spoke some gunfire sounded in the distance
For those asking: IOM, UNHCR & MSF have all told me they're aware of the situation, but any further action depends on security considerations.
Another update: refugees say they're still alone, fighting has intensified again & a bomb went off close to the detention centre. Waiting for a video but the network is bad.
Here's audio & a still from the detention centre. The video I was sent shows young children crying on the floor and women praying after a bomb went off nearby.…
Please do listen to the audio:… #libya #tripoli
Update: the suspected traffickers are back & are forcing the refugees to leave. The Somalis taken last night have been locked in a house, their phones taken off them.
The refugees say they've gathered together in one place & are refusing to go. International organisations still saying the area is inaccessible but they're "monitoring" the situation. The suspected traffickers are armed & say cars will arrive soon to take the refugees away.
Here's my story in today's @IrishTimes with some background information on the situation:… Here's Al Jaz with more info on the outbreak of fighting in Tripoli:…
(The phone is now switched again, I think to save battery.)
Here's one refugee's assessment of the work international organisations did in the detention centre before this fighting: "They are afraid of the Libyans. Some human rights come in this place, they don't talk to us, they give us shampoo, they say calm down, calm down."
"They are saying to us you are under UNHCR, but the UNHCR doesn't even come here to register us," he said. He also said a refugee in the detention centre was shot by the guards a month ago after they protested asking for UNHCR to visit.
Update: they're now being shot at.
Another voice message pleading for someone to help. "They're doing it right now, right now. They're shooting guns. They're trying to take us from this place."
The refugee who phoned begged me to post this video showing the women & children inside the detention centre. He said he hoped it would make people finally help them. I haven't heard more since they said the shooting started, nearly 45 mins ago.
Update: things are calmer but eight busses have apparently arrived to take them away. The migrants are refusing to go, they say they still don't know who sent the busses. They also say they still haven't got food or water. (Turning off the phone again to save battery.)
Another update: Eventually, confirmation seemed to come that the buses came from Libyan authorities. International orgs said they were monitoring (though couldn't assure safety), so the refugees agreed to get on. I tracked the buses by GPS & updated various people.
We're still trying to confirm that they've arrived in an official migrant detention centre. The refugees say after months of asking for it they're still unregistered with UNHCR - one of the reasons they're worried they could just disappear/be taken by a militia.
They said the new place is very dirty, they don't know if it's safe/who it's run by & there's no bedding, but I've cross-checked with a few people & they at least seem to be away from the fighting. Thank you everyone for following what has been quite a frightening day.
Thanks for the chance to clarify. They say the Italians saw them & told the Libyans where they were. The Libyan coastguard then brought them back to Libya. At that stage they had been at sea 14 hours.
Thanks so much again everyone who followed. I've now confirmed they're at an official detention centre away from the fighting - IOM says 400 arrived together. Around midnight they were finally given some cake & yoghurt - their first food in two days. Last (nice) msg from them.
Today they are hoping to get registered so there's at least some record who's there. Even away from the current fighting, there's still no guarantee of their safety. Someone from an int org said to me yesterday: "In Libya today everybody is at risk so not an easy situation."
& another update: even though they've been moved to a different part of Tripoli they're still frightened & can still hear the sounds of war. No food yet today either. #libya
I didn't expect to keep adding to this for so long, but want to keep highlighting what's happening. Elsewhere in Tripoli it seems hundreds of migrants were released from other centres over the past few days & left to make their own ways to new shelters, or else have disappeared.
Libyan authorities reportedly discussing releasing the group of refugees I'm in touch with, or else moving them out of Tripoli, because the fighting is getting nearer to the new detention centre. Their response:
Good to see Reuters coverage now, including up on the @nytimes.… Here was my original piece, written on Monday.…
Currently discussing what could happen next to these refugees with aid workers on the ground. If the fighting continues there seem to be no good options. 1. If they're released they'll almost certainly be kidnapped by traffickers, tortured & held for ransom.
2. They could be moved to detention centres outside Tripoli which are apparently much worse. There's less oversight by & access given to international aid organisations, & fighting often breaks out among the smuggling groups/militias involved in running them.
Here's more from @reuters on the background to the current fighting in Tripoli. “I think it’s a race against time and I feel like the (Libyan) state’s disappearing. It’s hard now to tell where’s the state and where’s the militia.”…
Summary at the end of Day 4: Since Sunday I've been talking to migrants pushed back to Libya by EU policy. Heavy fighting broke out, they were abandoned w/o food or water, a bomb went off nearby, they were shot at, eventually moved, fighting got closer again. Their thoughts now:
They say one of these portions was the only food they got all day.
They also have this comment on UNHCR (who they still hope will register them soon).
Response below from the refugees who were abandoned alone in Ain Zara, Tripoli, to the latest Reuters story about them.… #libya
Over the past few months there have been protests in Libyan detention centres about substandard conditions, how detention is indefinite & calls for access to international organisations. The refugees from Ain Zara say protesters were assaulted & tortured:
More from the refugees from Ain Zara detention centre on being forced to work in the houses of officers & wealthy Libyans while in captivity. They were beaten if they refused to, & say it only stopped when the fighting got bad this weekend.
A Libyan who works in Tripoli detention centres also contacted me after seeing this thread. He wanted to confirm reports that smugglers/traffickers work inside the detention centres, & sometimes sell migrants as forced labour.

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More from @sallyhayd

Jul 14, 2018
Big & exciting day today: I'm in the car with three Lord's Resistance Army defectors. We're on the way to Gulu, northern Uganda, where they'll be reunited with their families for the first time in 16 years. They look serious in this pic, but really everyone is all smiles (Thread)
They were kidnapped as children aged 9, 13 & 16, by the militia led by Joseph Kony, which was responsible for taking 10,000s of children from northern Uganda & forcing them to become child soldiers. Until this week they didn't even know their families were still alive.
They defected in Banda, northeast DRC (Democratic Republic of the Congo) a few weeks ago, & arrived in Kampala on Wednesday. Then they went through a few days of procedure & paperwork with the Ugandan government's Amnesty Commission (pic from there).
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