UN appeals for urgent release of migrants trapped in Libya

UNITED NATIONS (AP) – The United Nations (UN) on Friday urgently appealed for the release and evacuation of thousands of detained refugees and migrants caught in the crossfire of escalating fighting sparked by a rival army commander’s military campaign to take Libya’s capital.

The UN refugee agency said more than 1,500 refugees and migrants are believed to be trapped in detention centres where hostilities are ranging.

The oil-rich North African country is now governed by rival administrations – a UN-backed government in the capital Tripoli and the west, and the self-styled Libyan National Army in the east led by Field Marshal Khalifa Hifter who launched the major offensive earlier this month.

UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said fighting continued Friday on the outskirts of Tripoli, with reports of increased use of heavy artillery.

He said UN humanitarian officials report that almost 10,000 people have fled their homes in areas affected by the ongoing fighting.

“We are concerned about the impact of these clashes on the already difficult living conditions of ordinary Libyans,” he said.

Dujarric said local evacuation teams have received requests to move some 3,800 people to safer areas, “but only 550 people have been evacuated so far due to access restrictions caused by hostilities.”

UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi said the refugees and migrants in detention centres are “in the most vulnerable and dangerous of circumstances.”

“They have fled conflict or persecution in their own countries only to be trapped as conflict engulfs them again,” he said in a statement.

“The risks to their lives are growing by the hour. They must be urgently brought to safety. Simply put, this is a matter of life or death.”

File photo shows General Khalifa Hifter pointing at a map in his office in al-Marj, Libya. – AP