The United Nations says at least 44 people were killed and more than 130 wounded in the airstrike late Tuesday that hit a migrant detention camp outside the Libyan capital.
Dr. Hussein Yunis Hassan, a senior emergency coordinator with World Health Organization, tells VOA the victims came from several African nations, including Eritrea, Somalia, Sudan and Mauritania.
“They don’t receive identifications when they are put in these detention centers,” he told VOA’s Somali service. Many of the dead bodies were mutilated by the strike, and it will take time to identify them, he said.
Tripoli officials attribute the attack to the forces loyal to Khalifa Haftar, a strongman who leads the military in eastern Libya. For months, Libya’s internationally-recognized government has battled Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA) for control of the capital.
A U.N. official in Libya, Ghassan Saalme, said the airstrikes “clearly could constitute a war crime” as they “killed, by surprise, innocent people whose dire conditions forced them to be in that shelter.”
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and African Union have also condemned the airstrikes.
U.N. High Commission for Refugees Filippo Grandi said in the aftermath of the attacks that civilians must not be targets, that migrants and refugees should not be detained, and that Libya is not a safe place to return migrants who are rescued trying to make the dangerous crossing of the Mediterranean Sea to Europe.
Grandi called on those countries with influence on the parties involved in Libya’s conflict to work together to end the fighting.
African Union Commission Chairperson Moussa Faki Mahamat called for all sides to ensure the safety of civilians, especially detained migrants, while demanding an independent investigation into Tuesday’s airstrikes.
Libya has been a main point of departure for migrants who flee their homes in parts of Africa to get away from poverty and violence. But thousands of migrants have been intercepted at sea and returned to detention centers where the United Nations says they face inhumane conditions.