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The refugee situation in Libya

UNHCR answers questions posed by

Jeff Crisp, Refugee Studies Centre and Chatham House


1.The refugees who have gathered outside the UNHCR office in Tripoli say that they
have been left without food, water or shelter. Are these claims correct, and, if so, why
can they not be assisted?

Together with partners, UNHCR has been able to provide some help, including food,
cash and medical assistance, to some of the most vulnerable refugees and asylum
seekers in several locations in Tripoli. Our protection team estimates that those
currently camping outside the Community Day Centre (CDC) made up the majority of
those assisted since the beginning of October. However, the CDC remains closed for
security concerns.

The dire situation outside the CDC, where thousands have gathered after having been
left homeless and lost all their belongings as a result of security operations in October,
is of deep concern and requires an urgent and humane solution by the Libyan

We are particularly worried about the safety and well-being of the vulnerable women
and children outside the CDC. They told UNHCR they had been prevented access to
the building when it was still open by a handful of demonstrators. Some refugee
community workers have similarly been threatened. While we understand the frustration
and fears of those demonstrating, nothing justifies targeting these women and children.
We continue an active dialogue with representatives of the protesters outside the CDC.

2. Refugees in Tripoli currently have to rent accommodation from private landlords and
are at high risk of exploitation and eviction. Does UNHCR have any alternative shelter

UNHCR currently has no alternative housing for the thousands of asylum seekers and
refugees stranded in Libya. We are trying to identify solutions to alleviate their terrible
plight, but have very limited operational ability on the ground due to the lack of
agreement with the host country, lack of visas for our staff and lack of security.
The fact that migrants, refugees and asylum seekers have irregular status is an
aggravating factor. Many are forced to rely on high-priced and low-quality housing,
exposed to eviction, in neighbourhoods where safety and security conditions are below

Many buildings were demolished in the recent security operations, leaving thousands
homeless. Rental prices further increased, and housing options dwindled, with many
landlords reluctant to rent to non-nationals.

UNHCR provides emergency cash assistance to help cover shelter needs. We have
urged the Libyan authorities to help find lasting solutions, including by raising
awareness among landlords and securing protection from eviction.

Any alternative arrangement – such as collective housing facilities – would require key
preconditions to be met, including freedom of movement and guarantees for the safety
and well-being of those accommodated. It would be essential to ensure that all relevant
ministries engage in the management and delivery of services. With other UN agencies,
UNHCR is in dialogue with the authorities on such arrangements.

3. Has any progress been made with respect to the closure of the Libyan detention
centres where refugees and migrants are imprisoned, or to the improvement of
conditions in them?

UNHCR has repeatedly advocated for the release of asylum seekers and refugees and
deplored conditions in detention centres, which are often overcrowded, lack basic
sanitation facilities and where human rights abuses have been well-documented – most
recently by the Independent Fact-Finding Mission on Libya. Despite laudable attempts
by some Libyan authorities, such as the Attorney-General’s Office, little progress has
been made.

The recent wave of arrests and detention as a result of the security operation by the
Libyan authorities early October has further worsened the situation.

UNHCR and other UN entities continue to call for an end to the arbitrary detention of
refugees and asylum seekers, and for the establishment of a judicial review system in
Libya, in line with the Conclusions of the Second International Conference on Libya.
4. What kind of assistance does UNHCR provide to refugees and migrants who are
disembarked by the Libyan Coast Guard and to what extent does UNHCR have access
to those people once they have been placed in detention?

UNHCR’s interventions at disembarkation points have a primary objective of saving

lives by providing emergency humanitarian assistance – including water, food and
medical aid. When possible, we also undertake protection monitoring to identify people
under our mandate. While UNHCR is not able to trace all those disembarked, most of
those rescued or intercepted are indeed transferred to detention. UNHCR has sporadic
and limited access to detention centres, and no access yet to the newly created
detention centres in the west of Libya.
UNHCR has reiterated that Libya is not a place of safety for disembarkation and that
those rescued at sea should not be returned there.
Disembarkations are happening nonetheless, so we are calling for alternatives to
detention for people intercepted or rescued at sea, as well as for appropriate
disembarkation and reception arrangements, to ensure that the specific needs of people
can be adequately met.

5. The EU is providing the Libyan Coast Guard with boats, equipment and intelligence
so that they can intercept, return and detain those refugees and migrants who are
leaving the country by boat. What is UNHCR’s position on this? Why has the
organization not called on the EU to withdraw such support?

UNHCR has always made clear that any support (by EU and other donors) to the
Libyan Coast Guard or other Libyan State authorities should be made conditional on the
human rights of refugees and migrants in Libya being upheld and respected. All those
rescued or intercepted should be treated in a humane manner, respectful of their human
rights, at all times.

6. What is the current status of the evacuation programme from Libya? Why have flights
been suspended, when will they resume, and what criteria are used to select people for

UNHCR has been verbally informed by the Libyan authorities that it can restart
humanitarian evacuation flights after nearly a year of suspension. On that basis, and
while we still wait for official notification, we are making arrangements for the next
humanitarian evacuation flights, as more than 1,000 refugees and asylum seekers are
awaiting departure.

However, we warn that – as is the case globally – evacuation or resettlement is only

available to a very limited number of extremely vulnerable people, due to the limited
number of places provided by receiving countries. We look forward to continuing to work
with resettlement countries on additional evacuations and resettlement from Libya.

7. How many evacuated refugees have been resettled from the transit centres in Niger
and Rwanda and what is the current rate of resettlement departures from those

The Emergency Transit Mechanisms (ETMs) aim to provide protection to evacuees and
identify solutions for refugees including resettlement, complementary legal pathways,
voluntary return or repatriation to the country of origin or return to the country of first
asylum. Local integration is also a possibility in Niger and Rwanda, subject to
agreement from the relevant authorities.

Since the establishment of the ETM in Niger in November 2017, 3,361 people have
been evacuated there from Libya, and 3,190 evacuees have been resettled to other
countries. Since the establishment of the ETM in Rwanda in September 2019, 648
people have been evacuated there from Libya, and 407 evacuees have been resettled.

Resettlement departures from the ETMs were severely impacted by the COVID-19
pandemic and its impact is still being felt in 2021.

8. Have any of the people evacuated to Niger or Rwanda had their claim to refugee
status refused? If so, what will happen to them?

In both ETMs the recognition rate stands at 99%. For the small number of people whose
applications for asylum are rejected, other solutions are sought, such as voluntary
return or regularization of stay according to relevant immigration rules, where

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