“We treat the migrants humanely,” says Colonel Fathi Far, Director of the Shuhadaa Al-Nasr Center in Zuwara. “We do not take up arms when serving food or checking on them inside the center.”

But some migrants, according to Fathi, exploit the situation. In an incident last August, some attacked the center’s guards, and 250 of 1,500 migrants managed to escape from the temporary detention center. “They attacked the security staff and stole their arms. They even shot the soldiers and some of them have not yet recovered.”

Fathi adds that this incident and the subsequent confusion in the center has caused utter chaos in the city, forcing people to take up arms against the escapees when they trespassed farms or were in the vicinity of private homes, leading to the death of 16 illegal migrants.

As a result of this incident, Fathi objects to the terms of a memorandum Libya signed with Italy in February 2016, which establishes temporary centers for illegal migrants to reduce the flow to Europe. However, the future of this memorandum is vague, especially after a verdict was issued by Tripoli’s Court of Appeal on March 22, suspending its implementation.

He adds that more than 7,000 of the 20,000 migrants lodged in the center in 2016 fled through different ways. “So how can we establish temporary camps according to the memorandum?” he asks.

Cutting the routes to Europe

Fathi adds that the four official centers in western Libya, in addition to Zawara’s center, suffer from sharp shortages of financial capabilities, which lead to poor security. Fathi was amazed at the idea of establishing these temporary centers. “But if they are absolutely necessary, they should be established in the deserts and the south near the outlets used by migrants and far from the coasts to cut off the road of smugglers to Europe.”

Fathi disagrees with the international organisations that label this migration as “seasonal.” He stresses that migrants come to Libya all year round due to the current circumstances, and that they require additional financial and security capabilities. He wonders: “Who will provide the needed security capacities?” objecting to the intervention of foreign forces on the ground which would lead to accusations of treason and importing occupation which “we do not want at all.”

Health disaster

Outrage against the memorandum was not limited to the security aspect. Dr. Hussein Ghweila, Director of the Monitoring Directorate in southern Libya which is part of the National Center for Diseases Control, started by saying: “We are lucky we do not have any epidemics.”

He adds that during “the current security chaos and semi-collapse of the health sector,” establishing refugee camps in the country would cause a health disaster, open the door to a growing number of refugees to stay for extended periods of time, stressing that they, as a center, are not prepared and do not have the medical capabilities needed to fight epidemics and communicable diseases. “This fact is very dangerous and we have to be frank about that,” he said.

Ghweila says that the center received a notification from the World Health Organization in 2016 on the outbreak of polio in Nigeria, warning Libya as a country that receives refugees from Nigeria and calling for taking precautions against the disease. Based on this warning, “We had intensive and urgent meetings with the relevant authorities. We reached a sole conclusion that if some epidemic spreads as a result of receiving refugees, we can do nothing about it.”

This directorate, which is run by Ghweila, along with other 36 directorates linked to the National Center for Diseases Control, lack the needed capabilities. He admits that their services are not up to scratch, especially with respect to refugees. “That makes us, as a directorate and center, call on suspending this memorandum as all the conditions are not suitable for implementing it.”

Disadvantages for migrants

Dr. Amal Hammoud, a PhD in social services, believes that allowing migrants to stay for short or long periods is harmful to the migrants themselves as they are human beings and should be provided with all their rights in such camps that they should not be forced to stay in based on such agreements. Migrants will demand their rights, she believes, without being obliged to perform any duties; and when there are children, the Libyan state has to provide health and education services based on international standards, but “Can we do that?” she questions.

These rights, Dr. Amal believes, require integrating them into society, and this can develop into marriages between migrants and Libyan women, which indeed happened, especially in southern Libya. This, in one way or another, harms migrants as Libyan law does not give the children of Libyan women who are married to non-Libyans any rights.

Based on many studies she carried, out Dr. Amal says: “The cultural and religious aspects play a major role as migrants embrace different religions; and thus, integrating them into a society dominated by a single religion would be very tough,” especially under the current difficult circumstances. “I stress that it is hard for the Libyan society to accept a multi-religious culture.”

Libya sees no benefits

Amal believes that the migrants staying in these camps might provide the needed labor and production workforce, which provides them with the decent income they aspire to. However, Issa Sa’eed, an economic expert and member of Zawwra’s Municipal Council, says: “Most of the refugees have no professional skills.”

Sa’eed added that the weak private sector, which can benefit from the migrants as a workforce, the lack of statistics on the Libyan market’s need of such a workforce, and the concentration of economic activity in the coastal areas where these camps are planned to be established, make emigrating to Italy a better choice for migrants.

Sa’eed stresses that Libya will benefit from this project neither economically nor politically. “The European Union is the only entity which benefits from this memorandum as it fears demographic changes in case this immigration wave continues.”