Libyan police detain dozens of migrants in fresh crackdown

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CAIRO — Authorities in western Libya said they rounded up dozens of migrants Monday in the capital of Tripoli, in the latest crackdown on migrants in the conflict-ridden country.

Security forces raided migrant dwellings in Tripoli’s Airport Road area and detained “many” migrants, according to a police statement.

The statement did not say how many migrants were detained but attached images showed several dozen migrants sitting on the ground in an open area surrounded by armed forces in uniform.

It said the raids early Monday came in response to an increase in crimes in the area, including prostitution, robbery and drug trafficking. The statement blamed migrants for the alleged crimes without offering evidence supporting the claim.

The statement said legal measures were taken against the migrants without elaborating on what type of measures. The migrants were likely taken to detention centers in Tripoli — places that rights activists say are rife with abuse and where migrants are kept in miserable conditions.

A spokesman for the Tripoli-based government did not answer calls seeking comment.

The raids were the latest in an ongoing crackdown on migrants in Libya. The country has in recent years emerged as the dominant transit point for migrants fleeing war and poverty in Africa and the Middle East trying to reach Europe.

Over the weekend, a vehicle hit two migrants working as garbage collectors in the Airport Road area. The migrants, who were working for the government-run Tripoli Public Services, died and were buried Sunday in a funeral attended by dozens of other migrants, according to Tarik Lamloum, a Libyan activist working with the Belaady Organization for Human Rights.

He said Monday’s crackdown was a “cover-up” for the killing of the two migrants over the weekend. He said a Libyan man hit them with his vehicle and fled and called for authorities to open an investigation and track down the suspect.

“The raids are a propaganda campaign,” Lamloum said. “Most migrants in the area are workers in workshops and farms, not criminals as they say.”

Last year, security forces detained over 5,000 migrants, including many women and children, in a section of Tripoli in what authorities described as a security campaign against illegal migration and drug trafficking.

The U.N. decried the clampdown, which involved harassing migrants at their homes, beatings and shootings.

Libya plunged into chaos following a NATO-backed uprising that toppled and killed longtime autocrat Moammar Gadhafi in 2011.

Traffickers have exploited the chaos and often pack desperate families into ill-equipped rubber or wooden boats that stall and founder along the perilous Central Mediterranean route.

Thousands have drowned along the way. Others were intercepted and returned to Libya. Those returned to shore have been taken to government-run detention centers, where they are often abused and extorted for ransom under the very nose of U.N. officials.

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