Libya Turns Zoo into Detention Center for Illegal Immigrants

Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
Oct. 14 2013 8:02 PM

Libya Turns Zoo into Detention Center for Illegal Immigrants

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A boat with some 229 migrants aboard coming from Libya arrives on the italian island of Lampedusa on April 10, 2011.

Photo by FILIPPO MONTEFORTE/AFP/Getty Images

The voyage to a better life is a perilous one for Africans looking to get to Europe. The world got a reminder of how the dangerous journey can turn deadly earlier this month when a boat full of African migrants sunk off the coast of a nearby Italian island, killing hundreds. The ship, and others like it, was operated by smugglers and set sail from Libya.

With the number of migrants arriving in Libya as a launching pad to Europe surging, the country has struggled to keep up. As a result, the Libyan authorities have turned the Tripoli zoo into a detention center for illegal immigrants with as many as 50 people “picked up” on the streets and brought there each day, the Guardian reports. "The numbers arriving here are changing in an unbelievable way," the deputy commander of the brigade that operates the detention center told the Guardian. "We deport 10 and we find hundreds coming back."

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The zoo, which has been closed since the 2011 uprising, is still home to several hundred animals, according to the Libya Herald. The situation is grim for all involved, as the zoo also houses the operations room of a group of 43 brigades of the country's military. The head of the illegal immigration unit told the Libya Herald “they respect the human rights of those they arrest.”

“I’m feeding these people with the same food as I and my soldiers eat,” Commander Said Gars Alaha told the Libya Herald. “The food – baguette-style sandwiches – is, he said, paid for by members of the underfunded brigade themselves.” Alaha says the reason the zoo was chosen as a temporary detention center was because it was one of the few buildings available that had air conditioning.

Elliot Hannon is a writer in Washington, D.C. Follow him on Twitter.