More migrants being returned to Libyan detention centres than being evacuated

Despite the ongoing clashes in Libya, migrants are still being taken back to Libyan detention centres after being intercepted at sea by the Libyan Coast Guard, according to the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR).

UNHCR spokesperson Babar Baloch stated during a press briefing in Geneva on Tuesday 4 June that “new detainees are being brought to the detention centres, after being rescued or intercepted off the coast of Libya, faster than the rate at which people are being evacuated.”

A total of 1,224 migrants were intercepted at sea by the Libyan Coast Guard and taken back to Libya in May alone than in the first four months of the year combined.

Baloch added, “Conditions in Zintan are dire. Living areas are severely overcrowded and lack proper ventilation. In some parts of the centre, toilets are overflowing and are in urgent need of repair. As a result, solid waste and garbage has piled up inside the cell for days and presents a serious health threat.”

UNHCR secured the release of some 96 migrants who were detained in the Zintan detention centre in Tripoli.  The released migrants were mainly from Eritrea, Ethiopia and Somalia and included two newborn babies. The migrants were transferred to a temporary facility for safe departure.

“The UN Refugee Agency is providing the group with food, shelter, medical assistance including psycho-social support, as well as clothes, shoes, hygiene kits and blankets. They will remain at the facility while they await evacuation outside the country,” said Baloch.

Baloch said that there are another 654 refugees and migrants who are still in Zintan.

Migrants held in Libyan detention centres are at risk due to the ongoing clashes in Libya. Media reports state that migrants have little food and water, and disease is rife due to the lack of access to medical care. 

At the press briefing, UNHCR reiterated its call to the international community to carry out further evacuations of migrants and refugees out of Libya. Baloch further noted that “renewed efforts are needed to prevent people who are rescued or intercepted on the central Mediterranean from being taken back to Libya”.

The increasing instability inside Libya has also affected the number of migrant boats departing to Europe. This coupled with the Libyan Coast Guard efforts to prevent migrants from crossing the sea for Europe has left thousands of refugees and migrants stranded in Libya with no safe way out of the country.

UNHCR is calling for an end to detention for migrants and refugees in Libya. In May, it ensured the safe transfer of 62 stranded migrants from Tripoli to Romania and 149 migrants from Tripoli to Italy. 

TMP – 07/06/2019

Photo credit: Shutterstock / kittirat roekburi

Photo caption: Thousands of migrants are held in Libyan detention centres