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Libya: Migrants targeted in 'anti-drug' operation in Tripoli

Authorities promise further crackdown as aid agency says 500 migrants and refugees were arbitrarily detained in operation
Libyan security officers man a check point to verify the implementation of a total Covid-19 curfew in Tripoli on 7 August 2021 (AFP)

Libyan authorities have carried out a “major security operation” in a rundown suburb of the capital Tripoli against alleged criminals, liquor and drug dealers, and illegal immigrants, detaining hundreds of migrants in the process.

The attorney general said in a statement that Friday's day-long sweep targeted "properties exploited in organising illegal immigration" and in the trafficking of drugs, alcohol, and firearms.

"Many perpetrators of crimes" were arrested and "hundreds of illegal immigrants transferred to shelters", he added.

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On Saturday, the interior ministry said the first phase of the "security" operation was over but work would continue to tear down illegal dwellings in the suburb.

'We will pursue criminals'

On Twitter, Libya's interim Prime Minister Abdulhamid Dbeibah hailed the "interior ministry heroes" who had acted against drug traffickers targeting Libya's youth.

"We will not allow another war to be waged against our youth, which is the drug war, and we will pursue criminals in all regions," he wrote.

However, the Norwegian Refugee Council, a major aid agency operating in Libya, expressed alarm over the reported "mass arrests”.

The suburb was sealed off during the raid and residents barred from leaving their homes, a witness told AFP.

Pictures on social media appeared to show foreigners being driven away in the back of pick-up trucks.

Excavators were later used to knock down their makeshift shelters.

Crackdown on migrants

"We are hearing that more than 500 migrants, including women and children, have been rounded up, arbitrarily detained, and are at risk of abuse and ill-treatment," its country director Dax Roque said in a statement published on Friday.

"Migrants and refugees in Libya, particularly those without legal residency in the country, are often at risk of arbitrary detention," he said.

"Torture, sexual violence, and extortion [are] rampant in Libyan detention centres. We believe this latest wave of arrests is part of a wider crackdown by the Libyan authorities on migrants and refugees in Libya.”

The North African country has been in chaos since its 2011 revolution and is one of the main departure points for tens of thousands of migrants, mainly from sub-Saharan Africa, hoping to reach Europe.

Official centres for migrants detained in Libya are riddled with corruption and violence, including sexual assault, according to the United Nations and rights groups.