In Libya’s migrant detention centres, they call it knife sleeping. Locked in windowless warehouses, the migrants have so little space they sleep in shifts. The men lie pressed back to back like cutlery stacked in a drawer.
At the Triq al-Siqqa centre in Tripoli, the putrid smell of 1,300 people living in close quarters in the searing summer heat hits like a punch to the stomach. The air is so thick it is nearly impossible to breathe. In the main cell, 700 men crouch on the floor like animals in a pen. Two barred gates separate them from the outside.
Some of the detainees, who come from Africa, southeast Asia and the Middle East, have been living like this for eight months waiting to be repatriated. With almost no exceptions, Libya does not process asylum claims.
“It’s extremely hard, there are not enough toilets, there are many fights for water and food,” said Shahadat, 38, from Bangladesh, weak in the heat.
He was arrested in May and is waiting to be repatriated, after losing $7,000 to smugglers and kidnappers. “The authorities are trying their best but you can barely sleep. It’s a nightmare,” he said. Inmates have set up an impromptu barber and washing station close by but disease spreads fast.
Behind Shahadat, dozens of Bangladeshi migrants were lined up cross-legged on the dirt floor, awaiting their turn to eat. Fights broke out when a different group from Mali claimed that they had jumped the queue. Supplies for lunch — a stale sandwich, juice carton and glass of water — were running out.
Anes al-Azabi, one of the centre’s heads, said that there were only four days of food left. After that, if the centre could not secure government funding or a new deal with a charity, the guards would have to bring in their own supplies.