UNHCR: No Safe Shelter for Refugees Trapped in Libya

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On Thursday, the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) reported on the recent crackdown by Libyan security forces in Tripoli’s Gergaresh neighbourhood, where 17-year-old Eritrean mechanic, Hamza was caught up in the events.

In an interview with the Eritrean refugee, UNCHR revealed that he was arrested at his home and placed among thousands of migrants and asylum-seekers crammed into the Ghot Al-Shaal detention centre in unsanitary conditions, before managing to escape with others.

“It was extremely crowded – thousands of people were there. There was no washroom and food was very scarce. It was dire. Because of this, people decided to escape,” he said.

The youngster is now among a large crowd of refugees and asylum-seekers gathered outside a Community Day Centre run by UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, in Tripoli.

Many have been directly affected by the recent security crackdown, having lost their homes and belongings, or have recently escaped from detention. Others have crowded in front of the CDC in the hope that they will be prioritised for evacuation or resettlement.

“We didn’t have anywhere to go. We couldn’t go back to Gergaresh. There’s no place to go,” Hamza added.

Daily life has always been very challenging for asylum-seekers and refugees in Libya, which has been embroiled in war and political turmoil for the past decade, and hit hard in the COVID-19 pandemic. The lack of a national asylum law means they are considered to be ‘illegal migrants’ and are liable to arrest, detention, and abuse.

Many vulnerable asylum-seekers and refugees have lost their homes, possessions, and livelihoods in the ongoing crackdown, and say they now have no safe place to go in Tripoli.

“Wherever you move there are checkpoints,” says Hamza, who has been unable to return to his job as a mechanic. “We fear being arrested again and put in detention. Movement is very difficult,” he said.

UNHCR and partners initially provided emergency cash and prepaid cards, including food and hygiene kits to urgent cases, but were forced to temporarily suspend operations amid escalating tensions as large crowds of people gathered outside the building.

Some of the most vulnerable are provided with assistance through outreach activities in locations where shelter has been found. At one urban location in Tripoli this week, asylum-seekers were provided with food parcels, cash assistance, and replacements for lost UNHCR documentation.
“This food will help me for a while and I’ll share it with others,” Hamza noted.

“Today, we are almost 30 in my house, and we are doing our best to provide food to everyone, but we’re running out of money and supplies,” said Fatima, a Sudanese asylum-seeker and caregiver. Initially sheltering three people, she has now taken in another 21 people, including five children UNHCR announced.

“Many vulnerable families reached out to us begging for shelter. I’m hosting many Eritreans who escaped from detention. One of them has been crying for days, unable to eat, drink, or even sleep. Guards at the detention center began shooting at them and killed one of his friends,” she said.

UNHCR is calling for the release of refugees and migrants and an end to their arbitrary detention. As well as respect for their human rights and dignity at all times. However, amid the anguish and turmoil, long-term solutions are urgently needed.

Humanitarian flights out of Libya provide a vital lifeline to the most vulnerable. For the majority of this year, they were suspended by the Libyan authorities, despite UNHCR repeatedly urging for their resumption.