The UN High Commissioner for Refugees said that the total number of refugees and migrants held in Sabratha is 20.500, including those in official detention centers, adding that they are living in terrible conditions.
UNCHR's spokesman stated in a Geneva presser that for over a week, their teams have been working around the clock to meet the urgent needs of over 14,500 migrants and refugees who were being held captive by smugglers in different locations, including farms, houses and warehouses in and around the coastal city of Sabratha in Libya.
He added that the refugees and migrants were taken to a hangar in the Dahman area in Sabratha that has been serving as an assembly point since the onset of the crisis. From there, refugees and migrants are being transferred by authorities to official detention centers where humanitarian agencies are providing lifesaving assistance.
According to the UNHCR, Libyan authorities estimate that an additional 6,000 migrants and refugees are still being held by smugglers. If confirmed, this would bring the total number of refugees and migrants held in Sabratha to 20,500, including those in official detention centers.
The spokesman also added that it has been a priority to the UNHCR teams to work on identifying refugees, adding that the teams continue to advocate for the refugees' release, indicating that in some locations, UNHCR has provided tents that are being used as makeshift hospitals where UNHCR doctors are providing medical assistance.
"Since the onset of this humanitarian crisis, UNHCR staff have been on the ground providing emergency assistance in all locations where refugees and migrants have been transferred to, and are conducting assessments to determine needs and vulnerabilities. UNHCR has delivered more than 15 truckloads of relief items, including sleeping mats, mattresses, blankets, hygiene kits and winter jackets.
"UNHCR colleagues on the front lines describe a picture of human suffering and abuse on a shocking scale. Amongst the refugees and migrants who suffered abuse at the hands of smugglers, there are pregnant women and new born babies. Hundreds of people were discovered with no clothes or shoes. Scores of them are in need of urgent medical care, with some suffering from bullet wounds and other visible signs of abuse. Refugees and migrants who were rescued from the smugglers are visibly traumatized. Most of them say that they were subjected to numerous human rights abuses, including sexual and gender-based violence, forced labor and sexual exploitation." He explained.
He further added that many of the refugees and migrants say they were beaten and forced to work for long hours without any food or water, and they were kept in cramped conditions, often without any toilet facilities or ventilation, indicating that hundreds of them told the UNHCR teams they had not eaten for days.
The spokesman also elaborated by saying that UNHCR staff had identified a worrying number of unaccompanied and separated children, many under the age of six, adding that a large number of them reported losing parents on the journey to Libya or in the chaos that resulted during the events of the last few weeks.
"Detention centers and assembly points are now at full capacity and lack basic amenities like water tanks and sanitation facilities. Many people including children are having to sleep outside in the open." He remarked.
Meanwhile, the Head of the Illegal Immigration Fight Center in Sabratha Bassim Al-Gharabli said Tuesday that they transferred over 8.744 illegal immigrants to Gharyan illegal immigrants’ detention centers in the last ten days, and then from there to other centers.
He added that the transfer was monitored by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the UNHCR, in addition to local bodies like the Red Crescent, Safety and Security Organization and The Mediterranean Crossing Organization.
"Search for illegal immigrants is still ongoing in Sabratha as the human smugglers in the city used to hide them in different places such as family houses and state institutions that were under the smugglers' control." Al-Gharabli indicated.