The U.N. refugee agency reports dozens of refugees have been injured during a violent confrontation with guards at a detention center in the Libyan capital, Tripoli, last week. It says the refugees reportedly were trying to escape dire conditions of internment at the Sikka detention center.

Thousands of refugees and migrants are being held in appalling, abusive conditions in Libyan detention centers. Last week, the frustration of living under such dire conditions with no end in sight boiled over.

U.N. refugee agency spokeswoman, Shabia Mantoo, says protests by asylum seekers anxious about their months of confinement turned violent when forceful measures were used against them. She says around 50 people were injured when the police moved in to end the protests. She says two badly injured people have been taken to hospital.

“At the time of the riots, we estimate that around 400 asylum-seekers were held in Sikka detention center of whom all were registered with UNHCR, except for 20 individuals who had newly arrived at the center. And the breakdown we have of those 400 asylum-seekers — 200 were from Eritrea, 100 were from Somalia, 53 were from Ethiopia and 20 from Sudan,” she said.

Mantoo says the UNHCR has raised concerns with the authorities about these riots. She says the agency for a long time has been calling for an end to detention in Libya. She says refugees and asylum-seekers should be allowed to stay in the communities while being screened for protection needs.

“People in need of international protection should not be detained. They should be protected, in fact,” she said. “I mean people who are seeking international protection to be held in those conditions, which are deplorable and horrific. They should be screened for international protection needs and not be detained. They should be protected.”

The UNHCR reports 5,700 refugees and migrants currently are in detention, of whom 4,100 are of concern to UNHCR and may have a legitimate case for international protection.

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