The South African government has said it learnt with “deep regret” about the tragic loss of life following an airstrike on a migrant detention centre in Tripoli, Libya, that killed at least 44 people, mainly migrants. Over 130 more were left wounded according to the UN (United Nations) mission to Libya.
For migrants who are desperate to flee poverty or war in Africa, Libya is one of the main departure points for boats they try to catch to Italy. Many are however picked up by the Libyan coast guard, and placed in detention centres. Thousands are held in these centres in conditions which human rights groups and the UN describe as “inhuman”.
President Cyril Ramaphosa said that on behalf of the Government and people of South Africa, the country extends its deepest condolences to the Government and people of Libya, “as well as to the families and governments of the migrants that so tragically lost their lives”.
Ramaphosa says the “prayers and thoughts of the South African people are with the families which lost their loved ones in the attack”.
He also wished those injured a speedy recovery.
In a statement issued by SA’s Department of International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO), the President said that South Africa remains concerned at the “dire security and humanitarian situation in Tripoli as a result of the protracted conflict”.
According to Reuters, it was the highest publicly reported toll from an air strike or shelling since eastern forces under Khalifa Haftar launched a ground and aerial offensive three months ago to take Tripoli, the base of Libya‘s internationally recognised government.
South Africa said it believes that each of the parties must reduce the tensions and exercise restraint to prevent the further destruction and loss of life and the continued suffering of both civilians and migrants.
The South African President condemned the attack in the strongest possible terms and emphasised the need for the international community to stand together and urge the warring parties in Libya to immediately cease all military operations, protect civilians and return to dialogue in terms of the UN-backed talks.
The President emphasised that it is only through a negotiated settlement that there can be lasting peace in Libya.
He said the African migrants detained in Libya are innocent victims that are trapped in detention centres and, as such, are the responsibility of the Libyan people and must be protected.
The UNHCR refugee agency had already called in May for the Tajoura centre, which holds 600 people, to be evacuated after a projectile landed less than 100 metres away, injuring two migrants, said Reuters.
President Ramaphosa pointed out that with the attack taking place on the eve of the African Union Summit in Niger, it must serve to encourage African Leaders to assist Libyans resolve their challenges.
Both sides enjoy military support from regional powers. The LNA has been supplied for years by the United Arab Emirates and Egypt, while Turkey recently shipped arms to Tripoli to stop Haftar’s assault, diplomats say.
According to a Reuters report, the conflict threatens to disrupt oil supplies, boost migration across the Mediterranean to Europe, scupper U.N. plans for an election to defuse the rivalry between the parallel administrations in east and west – and create a security void that Islamist militants could fill.
UN Libya envoy Ghassan Salame condemned the strike, saying it “clearly amounts to the level of a war crime”.
In a statement Salame said: “The absurdity of this ongoing war has today reached its most heinous form and tragic outcome with this bloody, unjust slaughter.”
Sources: DIRCO, Reuters