Libya has reportedly detained thousands of people in a major crackdown on migrants

Hundreds of women and children were detained during the raid in the town of Gorgesh.

A major crackdown in western Libya has detained 4,000 migrants, including hundreds of women and children, according to officials.

The raid was carried out in the western city of Gargaresh on Friday, which authorities described as a security operation against documented immigration and drug trafficking. The Interior Ministry, which led the operation, did not mention the arrest of any traffickers or smugglers.

Officials said on Friday that 500 registered migrants had been detained but on Saturday it was reported that the number had reached 4,000.

Gargaresh, a well-known center for migrants and refugees, is about 12 kilometers (7.5 miles) west of the Libyan capital, Tripoli. The city has seen several waves of attacks on immigrants over the years, but the latest one has been described by activists as the most horrific so far.

“We hear that more than 500 migrants, including women and children, have been arrested, detained arbitrarily and are at risk of abuse and mistreatment,” Dax Roque, Libya’s director of the Norwegian Refugee Council, said in a statement on Friday.

“Immigrants and refugees in Libya, especially those who do not have legal residency in the country, are often at risk of arbitrary detention. Torture, sexual violence and extortion [are] Detention centers in Libya are in full swing.

A photo posted by the Interior Ministry shows dozens of migrants sitting with their hands tied behind their backs or being picked up in cars.

The detainees were gathered at a facility called the Collection and Return Center in Tripoli, police Colonel Nuri al-Gratley said. He said the migrants have been distributed to detention centers in Tripoli and surrounding towns.

Authorities will “repatriate the migrants as much as possible,” a government official said. He said many of the detainees had been living in Libya without documents for many years. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to brief the media.

Chaos in oil rich countries

The 2011 NATO-backed uprising that toppled and assassinated longtime leader Muammar Gaddafi has made Libya a major transit point for people fleeing war and poverty in Africa and the Middle East in search of a better life in Europe.

Human traffickers have benefited from the chaos of the oil-rich nation and have smuggled people across the country’s long border with six countries, before packing them into ill-equipped rubber boats on risky voyages across dangerous Mediterranean routes.

Libya activist Tariq Lamlum, who works with the Bellady Organization for Human Rights, said the operation involved human rights abuses against migrants, especially the way some women and children were detained. He did not elaborate.

He said many of the detainees had registered with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) as refugees or asylum seekers. No immediate comment was received from UNHCR.

Thousands of refugees and migrants are being held in government prisons, controlled by some armed groups, as well as an unknown number in squad centers run by traffickers.

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