Credits: Migrants walk towards a detention centre near the Libyan coastal town of Garabulli in July 2017 (AFP)

The Surman detention centre, home to hundreds of desperate refugees, is nothing more than a concrete block. It sits near a secondary road in western Libya, some 60 kilometres from Tripoli and close to Sabrata and Zawiya, two cities whose wealth is now built on illegal oil trafficking.

A guard stands outside the single padlocked door, the only entrance to the official facility. He refuses to give his name amid fear for his own safety but agrees to give Middle East Eye access. Inside are about 250 women and 30 children, all huddled on the ground, side by side, occupying every possible space. Next to each mattress there are a few items, including soap and combs. Some of the prisoners may have an extra shirt. Many have nothing.

“Once we were inside the detention centre, they started to blackmail us. They used the phones they had taken away from us to contact our friends in Libya and ask for money in exchange for our release or they directly called our relatives, threatening to kill us if they did not find a way to send money" said Jandra, who escaped poverty in Ivory Coast to seek out a better future in Europe.

Read more: Middle East Eye