Migrants who survived the deadly air strike on a Libyan detention centre said on Thursday they had been conscripted by a local militia to work in an adjacent weapons workshop.

Emergency workers recover bodies after an air strike killed nearly 40 at Tajoura Detention Centre, east of Tripoli on early July 3, 2019.
Emergency workers recover bodies after an air strike killed nearly 40 at Tajoura Detention Centre, east of Tripoli on early July 3, 2019. (AFP)

Around 300 migrants are still being held in the detention centre in Libya where more than 50 people were killed in an air strike, the International Organization for Migration said on Thursday.

Of the 600 migrants that were in the centre, "300 were still there" on Thursday and receiving humanitarian assistance from the IOM, Safa Msehli, the communications director for the organisation in Libya, told AFP.

Msehli was unable to confirm reports that dozens of migrants had fled on Tuesday night after the raid in the Tripoli suburb of Tajoura, which also left 130 wounded.

But the IOM said in a statement that its teams had "located" and transferred to the hospital "a group of injured migrants who left Tajoura after the attack in the surrounding neighbourhood."

"Innocent lives were lost in the attack on Tuesday night, and immediate action is needed from all sides," the IOM's Libya chief of mission, Othman Belbeisi, said in the statement.

"The suffering of migrants in Libya has become intolerable. It must be clear to all that Libya is not a safe port and that thousands of lives remain at imminent risk," he added.

The tragedy provoked an international outcry, but the divided UN Security Council failed to unanimously condemn the attack in an emergency meeting on Wednesday after the United States did not endorse a proposed statement.

Libya's internationally recognised government and its arch-foe strongman Khalifa Haftar traded blame for the deadly assault.

According to the IOM, of the more than 600 migrants detained in Tajoura, 187 were registered with its "Humanitarian Voluntary Return" programme which helps migrants go back to their home countries.

The IOM "continues to call for an end to the arbitrary detention and reminds all parties that civilians are not a target," the IOM statement added, reiterating that some 3,300 migrants are still detained in and around the Libyan capital in centres "considered at-risk."

UN agencies and humanitarian organisations repeat regularly their opposition to the return of migrants arrested at sea to the North African country that has been wracked by chaos since the 2011 uprising against dictator Muammar Gaddafi.

Rights groups say migrants face horrifying abuses in Libya, which remains prey to a multitude of militias vying for control of the oil-rich country.

Their situation has worsened since Haftar launched on April 4 an offensive to conquer Tripoli, the seat of the internationally recognised Government of National Accord (GNA).

Migrants say Libya militias conscripted them to clean arms

Migrants who survived the deadly air strike said on Thursday they had also been conscripted by a local militia to work in an adjacent weapons workshop.

The decision to store weapons at the facility in Tajoura, to the east of Tripoli, may have made it a target for the self styled Libyan National Army.

The Tripoli government has blamed Wednesday's pre-dawn strike, which killed more than 50 migrants and wounded more than 130, on the LNA and its foreign backers.
The LNA, led by warlord Haftar, says it targeted a nearby militia position but denies striking the hangar where the migrants were being held.

Haftar, whose forces control much of eastern and southern Libya, has received aid from Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Russia.

The UN and aid groups have meanwhile blamed the tragedy in part on the European Union's policy of partnering with Libyan militias to prevent migrants from crossing the Mediterranean Sea to seek a better life in Europe. 

Critics of the policy say it leaves migrants at the mercy of brutal traffickers or confined in detention facilities near the front lines that often lack adequate food and water.

Around 6,000 migrants, most from elsewhere in Africa, are being held in Libya's detention centres after being intercepted by the EU-funded coast guard. In Tajoura, hundreds of migrants are held in several hangars next to what appears to be a weapons cache.

Two migrants told The Associated Press that for months they were sent day and night to the workshop inside the detention centre.

"We clean the anti-aircraft guns. I saw a large amount of rockets and missiles too," said a young migrant who has been held at Tajoura for nearly two years.

Another migrant recounted a nearly two-year odyssey in which he fled war in his native country and was passed from one trafficker to another until he reached the Libyan coast.
He boarded a boat that was intercepted by the coast guard, which later transferred him to Tajoura, where he was wounded in Wednesday's air strike.

"I fled from the war to come to this hell of Libya," he said. "My days are dark."

The migrants requested that their names and nationalities not be published, fearing reprisal.

Many of those who died in the attack were crushed under debris as they slept. Pictures shared by the migrants show the hangar reduced to a pile of rubble littered with body parts.
More than 48 hours after the strike, relief workers were still pulling bodies from the rubble while the wounded lay on bloody mattresses in a courtyard, receiving medical aid.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Aid said on Thursday that it received reports of guards firing on the migrants as they tried to flee after the air strikes. A migrant told the AP it was not clear if the guards fired at the migrants or in the air.

Despite the international outrage following the air strike, aid groups said there are no plans to evacuate the migrants and that nowhere in Tripoli is safe.

"We are not aware of plans to relocate the migrants that remain in Tajoura," said Msehli. "Migrants intercepted or rescued at sea should not be returned to Libya, where they will face the same inhumane conditions."

Source: TRTWorld and agencies