Group: 22 Syrian migrants on hunger strike in Libyan prison

This is a locator map for Libya with its capital, Tripoli. (AP Photo)

CAIRO (AP) — At least 22 Syrian migrants detained for more than five months in Libya began a hunger strike Monday to demand their release, a Libyan rights group said.

The group of migrants included three minors and have been held in a prison in the western town of Zawiya in appalling conditions, the group Belaady said. They were detained in October in the town of Ajaylat, which is some 80 kilometers (50 miles) west of the capital of Tripoli, said activist Tarik Lamloum.

A spokesman for the government in Tripoli didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

The migrants arrived in Libya last year on a flight by private Syrian airline Cham Wings which operates routes to eastern Libya, Lamloum said. “They entered the country legally and have all needed documents and stamps on their passports,” he said.

They then moved to western Libyan where they were detained as part of a crackdown on migrants. A court in Ajaylat ordered their deportation after paying a fine of 600 Libyan dinars (around $125) each, according to a document obtained by The Associated Press.

Rights group Belaady said the Correction and Rehabilitation Institution in Zawiya, known as Jodeddaim Prison, is overseen by the Justice Ministry unlike other detention centers for migrants run by the Interior Ministry. The group, which visited the prison twice this year, said the detainees have suffered from scabies and other skin diseases.

Belaady called for the release of the migrants from prison and that they not be deported to Syria, where civil war has raged for over a decade.

Thousands of African and Middle Eastern people arrive every year in Libya which has become a major transit point for migrants seeking a better life in Europe. The North African nation descended into chaos following a NATO-backed uprising that toppled and killed long-time dictator Gadhafi in 2011.

Human traffickers have benefited from the lawlessness in Libya, smuggling in migrants across the country’s lengthy borders with six nations. The migrants are then packed into ill-equipped rubber boats and other vessels and set off on risky sea voyages.