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About 5,000 Immigrants are in official detention centers in Libyabut they represent only the tip of the iceberg, its head said today International Organization for Migration (IOM).

“The situation remains completely unacceptable regarding the violation of the rights of immigrants in the country. We have always made it clear that detention is not a solution,” IOM director-general Antonio Vitorino said during a press conference organized by the association of correspondents to the UN in Geneva (Acanu).

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IOM, which is part of the UN network, is working in Libya in partnership with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to provide vital assistance to migrants in formal detention centres.

“But we are concerned that there are unofficial detention centers that no agency has knowledge of or access to,” Vittorino stressed.

According to the head of the IOM, “5,000 people could currently be in official detention centers”.

The chaos that followed the fall of Muammar Gaddafi’s regime in 2011 made Libya a privileged route for tens of thousands of migrants, from sub-Saharan Africa, Arab countries and South Asia, seeking to reach Europe, particularly via the Italian coast.

Migrants who risk their lives to cross the Mediterranean fall prey to ruthless smugglers and, when intercepted, are returned to Libyan shores, held in detention centers and ill-treated, non-governmental organizations regularly report.

Vitorino called on the European Union to show “clarity” and “predictability” when it comes to search and rescue operations in the Mediterranean, especially regarding disembarkation points.

“Furthermore, we believe it is necessary to ensure legal channels of access to prevent migrants from resorting to negative practices, including resorting to illegal traffickers,” he said.

Italy’s geographic location makes it a destination of choice for asylum seekers crossing from North Africa to Europe, but a new decree was passed in January requiring aid ships to carry out one rescue at a time.

The head of the IOM stressed that his agency had a meeting with the Italian government last week “precisely to deal with the situation across the Mediterranean”, but did not elaborate.