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GAMBIAN AUTHORITIES VISIT LIBYAN DETENTION CENTERS

A migrant gestures from behind the bars of a cell at the detention centre in Garian, Libya, Tuesday 31 January 2017. The Garian detention centre, located 70 kilometres south of Tripoli, was constructed in 2006 following an agreement between the Italian and Libyan governments in an attempt to stem the flow of migrants reaching Italy. When UNICEF visited the centre on 31 January 2017, the population consisted of 27 women (four of whom were pregnant), one 11-month old child, a four year old, as well as 1,352 men - of which 250 were under the age of 16. The centre is at the crossroads of areas controlled by different militias fighting with each other: the Warshafana, the militias of Tripoli and the militias who support Haftar in Benghazi. For this reason it is a very dangerous centre, for officers who work there and for migrants in detention. The detention centre is currently managed by the Libyan National Army, and most migrants remain there for a period of 8 to 10 months according to the manager Abdalhamad Altunisa. "Children are often alone, they cross 2000 kilometres of desert without their families, and they are rescued at sea without documents”, said Altunisia “this makes it difficult for us to know their real nationality and age. Before 2014 we brought them back to the border between Nigeria and Libya to take them back to their countries, but after the last civil war it was much more difficult. Those areas are dangerous even for us”. Migrants who were being held in the cells said they are rarely allowed out. Many of the those being held are sick, and some detainees are said to have passed away because they have no access to medical care. The director of the centre, Altunisa, said "the official government [of Sarraj] does not give us the money to pay salaries and to pay those who bring us food. So often we do not have enough food or drinking water. This winter was particularly cold and in recent weeks 15 migrants froze to death."
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For the first time in 8 years, Gambia government has sent a delegation to Libya to inspect the conditions of citizens in detention centers and renew bilateral relations with the troubled North African country, Kerr Fatou has learned.

Libya has descended into war since 2011 after toppling its former autocratic leader, Muammar Gaddafi.

Since then, the security of the African Migrants who used the North African country as a transit point to Europe has been at the mercy of human traffickers and smugglers.

The five-member Gambian delegation that arrived in the troubled country on May 1 were Amadou Jawo from Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Commissioner Foday Gassama from Immigration Department, Geoffery Bala Gaye, Senior Assistant Secretary Ministry of Interior and Lamin A.K. Touray , Registrar of Companies.

Seedy Drammeh from the Gambia branch of the International Organisation of Migration was also in company.  

“The delegation managed to visit one of the biggest detention centers in JANZUR –Tripoli, where they met Janzur chief of Immigration department to discuss issues concerning accusation on abuse of migrants in Libya, and recent activities carried out by IOM,” Edrisa Sarjo, secretary general of the Gambia Association in Libya, has informed Kerr Fatou.  

“Foday Gassama who is irregular migration expert, spoke with the Gambia’s detained migrants about their conditions in detention centers. Gassama promised Gambians that they will be returned home through IOM’s voluntary humanitarian return programme the soonest possible time.”

Meanwhile, Touray at the registrar of companies has expressed concern over the fate nearly 70 migrants held for more than five months in a crowded detention center in Zuwara without sufficient food.

The delegation said in a statement that the numbers of irregular migrants at Zuwara is four times more than what it should be.

The immigration officer, Gassama, has identified 65 Gambians among the migrants who have requested IOM’s assistance to return to their countries of origin.

The processing and issuance of travel documents to Gambia returnees is ongoing and is expected to be completed by middle of May, Sarjo said.

A chartered flight by IOM has been scheduled to facilitate the voluntary return of Gambians.

The delegation that was hosted at the Palm City Hotel in Tripoli, where they met authorities from the Libyan Ministry of Foreign Affairs, has returned on May 6.   

The delegation also had a meeting with the Gambian Association in Libya regarding all activities for the promotion and welfare of all Gambian Nationals in Libya.

 

By Mustapha K Darboe

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