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Lawless Libya: The Jumping Off Point For Migrants Heading To Europe

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

We've remarked in passing many times this week that Libya is a jumping-off point for migrants heading for Europe. The North African country is in chaos. It has two rival governments and many warring militias. Smugglers operate freely. Rebecca Murray is a freelance journalist. She writes for McClatchy News. She's been reporting on the region for a decade, and she joins us from Tripoli. Tell us, Rebecca Murray, is there any law and order to speak of in Libya at all at the moment?

REBECCA MURRAY: Yes. There is law and order, but it's not from a centralized government. It's more, like, from ruling militias in various areas of Libya.

SIEGEL: And is their rule fairly stable or are the militias warring and trying to gain ground on one another?

MURRAY: There are two rival governments. One is based in Tripoli. It's nicknamed the Libya Dawn Government. The other one is based in the East, and it is called the Dignity Government. These two governments, in a way, are fighting over assets. So its oil fields and military bases are their priority.

SIEGEL: This is the situation to which many migrants - this is where they want to be in order to depart for Europe. What do they find? Where do they go when they arrive in Libya?

MURRAY: So actually migration through Libya has been going on for many years. But under former dictator Gadhafi, his regime really controlled the borders. And the people who were in charge of smuggling networks were a kind of chosen few. Now, since there is a lack of centralized government and control, it basically is more a free-for-all. In 2010, which is a year before the Libyan revolution, 4,500 migrants came across to Italy through Libya. Since last year, there was a recorded 170,000, which is a significant difference.

SIEGEL: I want you to describe the makeshift detention center outside the coastal Libyan town of Misrata that you visited and wrote about. Tell us about the conditions there.

MURRAY: It's a sorry sight. I've visited it a couple of times over the months, and now it is just bursting with people. There were 800 people to four toilets. There was one woman who was passed out in front of the detention center from dehydration. The guards had actually called an ambulance, but two hours later the ambulance still hadn't come. One other woman had given birth the night before. Inside the actual detention center, people are packed so tight that they're sleeping sitting up. Most of them - the majority, sorry, of the number there were Eritreans and Somalis. So these are essentially asylum-seekers.

SIEGEL: Well, if they're in a detention center in Libya, who is deciding whether they qualify for asylum somewhere or whether they should be repatriated to Somalia or Eritrea?

MURRAY: Unfortunately, no one is deciding. It's really - and again, this is the state of affairs in Libya at the moment. Pretty much all the international community left, so no one is, essentially.

SIEGEL: Well, Rebecca Murray, thank you very much for talking with us about what's going on in Libya.

MURRAY: You're welcome. Thank you.

SIEGEL: Rebecca Murray is a freelance journalist. She writes for McClatchy News, also for Al Jazeera English, and she spoke to us from Tripoli in Libya. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.