Libya migrant raid reaches 4,000 amid major crackdown

CAIRO (AP) – A major crackdown in western Libya resulted in the arrest of 4,000 migrants, including hundreds of women …

CAIRO (AP) – A major crackdown in western Libya resulted in the arrest of 4,000 migrants, including hundreds of women and children, authorities said Saturday.

The raids took place in the western city of Gargaresh on Friday as part of what authorities described as a security campaign against illegal migration and drug trafficking. The Interior Ministry, which led the crackdown, did not mention that any trafficker or smuggler had been arrested.

Authorities said on Friday that 500 illegal immigrants had been detained, but on Saturday they reported that the number had reached 4,000.

Gargaresh, a well-known migrant and refugee center, is located about 12 kilometers (7.5 miles) west of Tripoli, the Libyan capital. The city has seen several waves of raids against migrants over the years, but activists described the latest as the fiercest yet.

Since the 2011 NATO-backed uprising that toppled and killed former dictator Moammar Gadhafi, Libya has become the dominant transit point for migrants fleeing war and poverty in Africa and the Middle East, hoping to a better life in Europe. Human smugglers have profited from the chaos in the oil-rich nation and smuggled migrants across the country’s long border with six nations. They then pack desperate migrants into ill-equipped rubber dinghies on risky journeys through the dangerous Central Mediterranean Sea route.

The detainees were gathered at a facility in Tripoli called the Collection and Return Center, said police Colonel Nouri al-Grettli, the center’s chief.

He said the migrants have been distributed to detention centers in Tripoli and surrounding towns. Libya’s detention centers are miserable places where migrants have suffered severe abuse and mistreatment, according to rights activists.

A government official said authorities would “deport as many as possible” of migrants to their countries of origin. He said that many of the detainees had lived illegally in Libya for years. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to report to the media.

Tarik Lamloum, a Libyan activist working with the Belaady Organization for Human Rights, said the raids involved human rights violations against migrants, especially in the way some women and children were detained. He did not elaborate.

Lamloum said that many detained migrants have been registered with the UN refugee agency UNHCR, as refugees or asylum seekers. UNHCR did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Hundreds of migrants were seen in images posted on social media on Friday by the Interior Ministry sitting grouped in a courtyard with the banner of the Collection and Return Center in the background.

Other images of Gargaresh purporting to show the migrants show them with their hands tied behind their backs. An aerial photo showed men lying face down on the ground at a crossroads, with military trucks and guards around them.

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