More than 2,700 refugees are still trapped in areas of southern Tripoli amid deadly warfare between forces allied to Libya's internationally recognised government and rogue eastern general Khalifa Haftar's militia, the United Nations warned late on Tuesday.
"Current conditions in the country continue to underscore the fact that Libya is a dangerous place for refugees and migrants, and that those rescued and intercepted at sea should not be returned there," the UN refugee agency UNHCR said in a statement.
On Tuesday, UNHCR relocated to a safe area of the capital 150 refugees including women and children who were detained in the Abu Selim detention centre in southern Tripoli after 150 were evacuated from the Ain Zara detention centre there last week, said the agency.
UNHCR carried out the evacuation with its partner, the International Medical Corps, and the Libyan interior ministry, the agency said.
“It is a race against time to move people out of harm’s way. Conflict and deteriorating security conditions hamper how much we can do,” said UNHCR’s Assistant Chief of Mission in Libya, Lucie Gagne.
“We urgently need solutions for people trapped in Libya, including humanitarian evacuations to transfer those most vulnerable out of the country,” Gagne added.
There are now 400 refugees being held UNHCR’s Gathering and Departure Facility in the centre of Tripoli, where they are safe from hostilities, UNHCR said. The agency intends to relocate more refugees "as soon as conditions on the ground allow," UNHCR stated, noting that a rapid escalation of the fighting in southern areas of the capital currently prevented such life-saving efforts.
Refugees who were held at the Abu Selim centre told UNHCR that they were petrified and traumatised by the fighting which was as close as 10 kilometres away, and feared for their lives, UNHCR reported.
Last week UNHCR relocated over 150 refugees from the Ain Zara detention centre also in south Tripoli to its GDF, bringing the total number of refugees currently hosted at the centre to more than 400.
Over 170 people have been killed and more than 750 wounded in the warfare in southern Tripoli since Haftar ordered the assault on the capital nearly two weeks ago to "defeat terrorists" and "maintain security".