COVID-19 cases are rising in Libya, rising from 200 cases in June to some 28,000 cases by October 2020. Movement restrictions along with curfews, as well as the ongoing conflict and economic crisis, have led to sharp increases in food prices, making it hard for refugees and asylum seekers to support themselves. In response, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) and world food programme (UNWFP) have expanded efforts to provide these vulnerable populations with emergency food assistance, including people recently released from detention centres. More than 20 people, including minors, were assisted earlier this month following their release from Triq al Seka Detention Centre. A UNWFP representative said that “the situation is getting worse by the day. Many people can’t access food for a number of reasons including prices going up and limited food availability. At the same time, there are almost no opportunities to work.”
OHCHR has also called for urgent action to address the situation of migrants crossing the central Mediterranean. A team dispatched by OHCHR to monitor the situation of migrants transiting through Libya, highlighted a “cycle of violence” whereby people were left to drift for days at sea, their boats dangerously intercepted, and then returned to suffer arbitrary detention, torture, and other serious human rights violations in Libya. Many refugees and asylum seekers reported that the Libyan Coast Guard shot or rammed their boats, causing vessels to capsize or people to jump in the water in desperation.
According to IOM, during the week of 22-28 September 2020, 517 migrants were intercepted at sea after departing Libya, and so far during 2020 more than 9,400 people had been returned to the country after being intercepted. Detention numbers have likewise remained high as many returnees are locked up upon arrival. According to UNHCR, as of 18 September there were more than 2,400 migrants and refugees in the eight official detention centres throughout the country. People intercepted at sea are generally sent to Al Nasr, Abu Salim, and Suq al-Khamis detention centres. Disembarkation following rescue-at-sea operations are taking place several times per week and the UNHCR team and IRC medical partner are deployed to provide refreshments, medical first aid, verification of profiles, and monitoring of destination. UNHCR reported that out of 1,260 people disembarked by the Libyan Coast Guard or the Coastal Security (GACS) in August, 32 percent were released upon disembarkation or escaped. Most of the releases take place in the west, where the AGCS is most operational but where the detention centre manager at the Zuwarah detention centre is reluctant to take responsibility for more people, due to capacity issues.
Aid agencies also reported that 231 refugees and asylum seekers had been released from detention in 2020 and that 201 monitoring visits had taken place this year. As of 30 September, 8,898 refugees and migrants were registered as intercepted at sea by the Libyan Coast Guard and disembarked in Libya. Despite COVID-19, disembarkation figures are similar to those in September 2019 (1,120 individuals, including 68 women and 79 children). Moreover, on 28 and 29 September, UNHCR and IRC distributed hygiene kits, mattresses, blankets, and plastic basins to vulnerable asylum seekers and migrants being held at Triq al Seka (1,094 individuals) and Abu Salim (145 individuals) detention centres in Tripoli. In total, UNHCR stated that there are 46,247 registered refugees and asylum seekers in Libya and IOM reported 392,241 internally displaced persons in 2020.
- United Nations Support Mission in Libya, “UNHCR, WFP Expand Partnership in Libya to Reach More Refugees and Asylum Seekers As Food Needs Rise,” 21 September 2020, https://unsmil.unmissions.org/unhcr-wfp-expand-partnership-libya-reach-more-refugees-and-asylum-seekers-food-needs-rise
- Global Detention Project, Immigration Detention in Libya, August 2018, https://www.globaldetentionproject.org/countries/africa/libya#country-report
- UNHCR, “UNHCR Update Libya (2 October 2020),” 2 October 2020, https://reliefweb.int/report/libya/unhcr-update-libya-2-october-2020-enar
- OHCHR, “Shocking Cycle of Violence for Migrants Departing Libya to Seek Safety in Europe,” 2 October 2020, https://www.ohchr.org/en/newsevents/pages/displaynews.aspx
- United Nations Support Mission to Libya, “Briefing of Acting SRSG Stephanie Williams to the Security Council on the Situation in Libya,” 2 September 2020, https://unsmil.unmissions.org/briefing-acting-srsg-stephanie-williams-security-council-situation-libya
- IOM, “IOM Libya Maritime Update (22-28 September 2020),” IOM Libya Facebook page, 28 September 2020, https://www.facebook.com/IOMLibya/photos/a.596682760492685/1789443574549925/?type=3&eid=ARCiVpa0B6j1C7Sccw20m_G3C5ivZYImlUP1eEEqThEmbZUjbuglfBDMoURLdVXIZCjoaB_5zYd3A7FT
- Migrants Sitting in a Room in a Detention Centre in Western Libya, (Al-Jazeera, “COVID-19 Lockdown Worsens Migrants’ Suffering in Libya,” 2 May 2020, https://www.aljazeera.com/videos/2020/05/02/covid-19-lockdown-worsens-migrants-suffering-in-libya/
- UNHCR, “UNHCR Update Libya (18 September 2020),” 18 September 2020, https://reliefweb.int/report/libya/unhcr-update-libya-18-september-2020-enar