One year on from the migrant detention centre bombing in Tajoura, eastern Tripoli, dozens of refugees and migrants who died have never been formally identified.
At least 53 people were killed and 130 injured on the night of 2 July 2019, according to the UN, after an airstrike by a foreign aircraft supporting eastern warlord Khalifa Haftar’s forces hit a hall where migrants and refugees were locked up.
Many of the victims had previously tried to reach Europe by crossing the Mediterranean Sea, but were caught and returned by the Libyan coastguard, which is supported by the European Union.
Dozens of the dead were buried in graves marked only with a serial number; according to aid workers, no attempts were made to contact their relatives. Though several were carrying identification, the only victim whose full name became public appears to be an Ethiopian woman who was named by local media as Najaax Cabdi Sugaale.
“When it comes to migrants it’s close to impossible here because most don’t have relatives in the country, they don’t have identification,” said an aid worker, on condition of anonymity. “So it becomes close to impossible to do any forensic response here. That was the case when this tragic incident happened last year. The authorities were not able to respond by the book, as most of the resources were not available [to them].”
“To my knowledge, nobody took charge of this,” said another source.
Survivors still in Libya planned to light candles, but were unable to properly mark the one-year anniversary on Thursday due to the coronavirus pandemic. Some sent messages to the Guardian asking for help. “We suffered a lot,” said one South Sudanese man. “We want to be out of this country in [a] safe place. We are not demanding specific countries or continents, but out of Libya.”
Growing up in Eritrea, I was a skilled person in a machine shop, and also an artist. But I couldn’t stay because if you stop education you have to join the army – it’s the rule of the country’s dictator-led government. The government would make me a servant, with too little money. I need peace; I don’t need politics. I need to live freely and to be able to support my family.
I crossed the Sahara and lost brothers there. It’s a horrible moment, when someone describes their experience in the desert it is hard to even listen. We were without water for three days, and a lot of people were lost. I tried to cross the Mediterranean from Libya to reach Europe, but I was caught by the Libyan coastguard and they brought me to Tajoura detention centre in eastern Tripoli. The coastguard is funded by the European Union. We blame Europe a lot.
My time in Tajoura was terrible. We ate only once a day and we were always frightened of the guards. We were so sad and hungry. My brother at home died when I was in the camp, and a month after the bombing my father died.
After the bombing, hundreds of survivors were left in the detention centre for a week. The manager of the centre tried to force us back inside the halls, but we refused. We asked for help and held a hunger strike. In the end, the guards said we could leave.
We walked to the UN refugee agency’s gathering and departure facility, which was a place where refugees were taken before they were evacuated to countries in Europe or the US, usually via Niger or Rwanda. They were meant to take care of refugees. We were expecting a solution. All the world knew our problem, but the UN high commissioner for refugees said many times the gathering and departure facility was overcrowded and they would send us to the city, Tripoli, where we would have to live on our own.
We were afraid of the war. We were afraid of being exposed to smugglers and traffickers. We were scared of sickness, especially tuberculosis. When we were in the gathering and departure facility, three rockets hit nearby. At the beginning of this year, the UN finally kicked the survivors out of their centre. Now we are struggling to survive.