Moroccan migrants in Libya seek return, stage hunger strike

By The Canadian Press
November 15, 2017 - 3:30pm

MARRAKECH, Morocco — Moroccan authorities said Wednesday that they are working to bring home a large group of Moroccan migrants who sought to enter Europe illegally but are stuck in a Libyan detention centre.

An official at the ministry in charge of migration and Moroccans living abroad told The Associated Press that the "Moroccans will be repatriated."

"The operation takes time and involves several people, but we are working on it," the official said, adding that authorities are holding meetings with the migrants' families to reassure them.

An official at the Foreign Ministry said several government departments are involved in the effort to bring the Moroccans home.

Both officials agreed to discuss the matter only if not quoted by name because of the sensitivity of the talks.

A U.N. report this week detailed cruel conditions at Libyan detention centres and revived concerns about European support for Libya's coast guard to stop migrants from crossing the Mediterranean.

A video circulating on Moroccan social networks and reported widely by Moroccan media Wednesday featured a man saying that he and 232 other Moroccans have been held for two months in Tripoli and are on a hunger strike to demand repatriation.

In the video, apparently recorded Monday, a man identifying himself as a Moroccan national said some of his fellow countrymen at the centre are having medical problems and complained that migrants of other nationalities had already been sent back to their homelands. "We are the only ones still here," he said.

Speaking in Darija, the Moroccan dialect, he said, "No Moroccan official came, nor called ... to inquire about our situation." The man was not identified.

The video was reportedly recorded in an immigration detention facility in Tripoli. At the back of the crowded room where some are sitting, others standing, a flag hanging on the rear wall is stamped with the name of the Libyan Ministry of Interior's Department for Combating Illegal Immigration.

Morocco is both a transit country and a source of many migrants seeking to enter Europe clandestinely. Following the reinforcement of security measures on the Moroccan-Spanish border in the north of Morocco, many Moroccans are now trying to enter Europe via Libya. In August, 190 of them were sent home after being arrested in Libya.

U.N. monitors who visited Libya early in November found thousands of hungry men, women and children locked inside packed hangars. Many had been victims of torture, rape, forced labour, starvation and physical violence during their journeys and in Libyan detention centres, the team said.

U.N. human rights chief Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein called the conditions "an outrage to the conscience of humanity."

Under pressure from anti-immigrant sentiment across Europe, the European Union has backed the Italy-driven policy of beefing up Libya's coast guard patrols to prevent migrants from leaving aboard smugglers' dinghies bound for Europe.

Human rights groups have denounced the policy, saying it exposes returned migrants to Libya's lawless detention centres, with no legal recourse.

Reda Zaireg, The Associated Press

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