Video shows woman lying dead on floor of crowded Libyan migration detention centre

UN says woman may have died from tuberculosis at Abu Salim centre in Tripoli

Footage has emerged showing a woman lying dead on the floor of a migration detention centre in Libya in the latest shocking glimpse of the conditions endured by refugees in the north African country.

The clip, believed to have been filmed two weeks ago and shared with the Guardian by a group who arrived in Tunisia from Libya, shows a room inside the Abu Salim detention centre in Tripoli.

Pointing to the room where hundreds of female asylum seekers are crammed together on beds, a Nigerian woman is heard to cry out and call the facility a “prison”.

The 30-second clip concludes with the image of a malnourished woman appearing to lie dead on the ground, unclothed, her eyes open. “This woman is dead,” says the Nigerian woman. “She died this morning.”


Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) and a UN source confirmed the video’s authenticity and said it was filmed at Abu Salim.

Numerous NGOs have reported repeated incidents of violence against refugees and migrants held in the facility. Automatic weapons were fired at detainees in June 2021, leading to a number of casualties, according to MSF. The group last week announced it would end medical activities by the end of the year in Tripoli.

The UN source said the woman in the video, believed to be from Somalia, may have died from tuberculosis. Dozens of asylum seekers detained at Abu Salim have contracted the disease, with aid workers reporting they are languishing in crowded rooms filled with mattresses and lacking access to medical care.

Ibrahim, a man from Sierra Leone who is now in Tunis, and who was previously detained in Tripoli, said: “The only way to leave from Abu Salim is by paying a ransom of $1,000 [€925].”

A woman from Sierra Leone said: “There is no other way out of Abu Salim. That place is hell.”

The organisation Refugees in Libya, which is managed by refugees and asylum seekers, said it was investigating the case. “We are trying to find out who this woman was,” a spokesperson said. “Of course there are always challenges in collecting information regarding deaths and torture in Libya. Victims and eyewitnesses are hesitant to tell these stories and it takes special attention to gain their support.”

Vincent Cochetel, the UN refugee agency’s special envoy for the western and central Mediterranean, said: “Awful graphic footage reminding us that conditions of detention in Libya are not improving and that we should all pursue efforts to end arbitrary detention.”

Thousands of refugees and migrants are held in detention centres across Libya nominally run by the directorate for combating illegal migration (DCIM) and overseen by the ministry of the interior.

Aid workers have documented severe beatings, sexual violence, extortion and forced labour at detention centres across Libya that are used to house people who have been forcibly returned by the EU-backed Libyan coastguard after trying to reach Europe across the Mediterranean. An Amnesty International report in 2021 alleged that guards coerced women into sex in exchange for water and shot at detainees.

Libyan authorities have vowed to close DCIM centres rife with abuse, but human rights violations have continued in newly opened or reopened centres, Amnesty has said.

A report for the UN human rights council concluded in 2021 that conditions in Libya’s migration detention centres were a possible crime against humanity.

Those who manage to escape from Libyan detention centres try to cross the border into Tunisia, which has surpassed Libya as the principal departure hub for people trying to reach Europe, and where the EU last month signed a €1 billion deal to help stem irregular migration.

Tunisia has recently been accused of removing hundreds of sub-Saharan African people to a desolate area along the border with Libya, where they are eventually rearrested by Libyan border guards who send them back to the detention centres. – Guardian