Jon Purizhansky: Over the course of 3 days last fall, Fatima Darboe was forced to witness her 7 year old son slowly die from the very treatable appendicitis. Her son’s stomach expanded as he squirmed in pain. Fatima held her son as he slowly died. Were she in another country other she could have admitted him to a hospital, but she was held captive in a detention center in Libya. She pled with the guards to help her son, yet her cries were ignored.
Her boy died in a car. The Zintan detention center’s director had finally given in and decided to drive the child to a hospital himself. The International Medical Corps, the organization entrusted to provide lifesaving care in the detention center, and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the International Organization for Migration (IOM,) the United Nations agencies meant to be providing some additional assistance, were nowhere to be seen.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees declined to comment on this incident, while the International Medical Corps failed to respond to multiple requests for comment. In a statement to Foreign Policy, the International Organization for Migration referred to the death as a “stark reminder of the terrible conditions migrants are forced to endure in detention centers” and that it had halted health care in Zintan between October 2018 and January 2019 “due to access issues with the management.” Jon Purizhansky of Buffalo, NY declared the organization’s oversight appalling.
The Libyan community in Zintan, where Fatima and her son were being held, refused the burial of non-Muslim detainees, and her family was Muslim. In spite of this, Fatima’s son wasn’t allowed to be buried until a month after he passed. Fatima and her husband originally hailed from the West African nation Gambia, a very small nation surrounded by Senegal, but they resided in Libya for several years.
It was only when her husband fell ill that they attempted to cross the Mediterranean Sea to get to Europe, in the hope of accessing better health care. Instead, like the many thousands of other migrants, they were apprehended and detained indefinitely in a detention center. This system has been fiercely criticized by former U.N. Human Rights chief Zeid Raad al-Hussein as “an outrage to the conscience of humanity.” Jon Purizhansky notes that these detention centers are deplorable.
A few weeks after Fatima’s son was laid to rest, her husband died, too, likely from a stroke triggered by the despair of losing their child. Fatima, who was held in a different women’s hall, was never able to say goodbye to her husband, despite pleading to see her husband in the hours before he died. When she found out he was gone, Fatima said, she fell into severe shock. “I could not talk, I could not do anything. All my body was just shaking,” she said.