Sabratha has been the most common point of departure for mostly sub-Saharan African migrants trying to cross the Mediterranean by boat from Libya. But the number of crossings dropped sharply in July after an armed group struck a deal with officials from the United Nations (U.N.) -backed government in Tripoli to block departures reported Reuters.

Libya has been suffering security and political chaos Libya has been suffering security and political chaos since the murder of Col Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, and measures are being put to protect the country’s valuable cultural assets such as those located in Sabratha.

The Union of Libyan World Heritage Municipalities was formed by Mayors of five Libyan municipalities as a standing committee for the protection of Libyan archaeological sites. In response to the ongoing clashes and unrest the Union is calling for swift and urgent action to enforce the decision of UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee.

The Committee placed five sites on the List of World Heritage sites in Danger in July of 2016 i.e. Archaeological Site of Cyrene, Archaeological Site of Leptis Magna, Archaeological Site of Sabratha, Old Town of Ghadamès and Rock-Art Sites of Tadrart Acacus.

Read: Britain’s Foreign Secretary says removal of Libya’s Colonel Gaddafi a tragedy

“The high level of instability affecting the country and the fact that armed groups are present on these sites or in their immediate surroundings. It invoked the damage already incurred and the serious threat of further damage to explain the decision,” The Committee noted during that annual meeting in Istanbul, Turkey.

Archaeological Site of Cyrene (Libya) Wikimedia Commons

UNESCO has since responded saying it had been informed about the military action and called on all parties to cease the violence and ensure the protection of the invaluable cultural heritage, including and especially for Sabratha’s archaeological museum which is currently in more eminent danger. Director-General Irina Bokova said they remain committed to work with Libyan cultural professionals to put in place emergency measures to protect the heritage site.

Read: African migrants are being sold in Libya’s ‘slave markets’ IOM says

The union also called upon recognized government authorities in Libya to take “urgent” action to stop the fighting in the middle of the city. The armed groups involved were urged to keep away from the heritage sites in order to keep them available for “all nations”.

“I call on all parties to ensure the safeguarding of Sabratha’s unique cultural heritage. I appeal to all to refrain from any military use or targeting of cultural heritage sites and their immediate surroundings, in respect of the provisions of the Hague Convention of 1954 for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict. Libyan heritage is the expression of a shared memory of the country, and its protection represents a corner stone for long lasting national reconciliation, resilience and peace. It must be kept out of conflicts,” the Director-General of UNESCO, Bokova recently said.

“UNESCO is committed to work with all Libyan cultural professionals to reinforce emergency measures for cultural heritage protection, and enable the rapid assessment, documentation and monitoring of heritage. We will spare no efforts in supporting Libyans to protect their heritage, as a source of dignity and confidence for the future of all Libyans,” continued Bokova.