West Africa: Libya Frees Dozens of Sub-Saharan Refugees, Migrants

Some 3,000 asylum seekers and migrants remain trapped in government detention centers in Tripoli, close to the fighting where their lives are at risk.

The United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) reports 96 refugees and migrants freed from the Zintan detention center in Libya's capital Tripoli are being kept in a safe place until they can be transported out of the country.

The group of refugees and migrants, released on Monday, is originally from Somalia, Eritrea and Ethiopia. They include two newborn babies.

The U.N. refugee agency reports they are being well-cared for in a facility that will shelter them until they are able to leave the country.

UNHCR spokesman Babar Baloch said his agency is providing them with food, shelter, medical care and psycho-social support to help them deal with the trauma of their recent detention.

"Conditions in Zintan are dire," he said. "Living areas are severely overcrowded and lack proper ventilation.In some parts of the center, toilets are overflowing and are in urgent need of repair. As a result, solid waste and garbage has been piled up inside the cells for days and presents a serious health threat."

Security in Tripoli is deteriorating as fighting between the Libyan government and a rebel commander continues without end.

The UNHCR reports some 3,000 asylum seekers and migrants remain trapped in government detention centers. Many were brought there after their boats were rescued or intercepted off the coast.

Baloch said UNHCR would like to get all the refugees and migrants released, but convincing the authorities to do so is not possible. Instead, he said, the agency tries to help the most vulnerable.

He said asylum seekers cannot go back to their countries of origin, so places have to be found for them in countries willing to take them.

"We can take refugees and asylum seekers to Niger, but then we need a speedier process in terms of finding lasting solutions for them out of Niger," he said. "And, as well we are calling on countries, many countries in Europe and beyond to help us find legal pathways for these desperate people who are caught up in these dire conditions inside Libya."

The spokesman said the UNHCR is seeking countries to accept the newly-freed migrants, but that no date for their departure has been set.

He said in the past, freed migrants have been flown mainly to Niger, or to Italy and Romania.

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