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18 February 2022 – Libya

The UN reported in January that there were more than 12,000 people being detained in 27 prisons and detention facilities across Libya, often in “inhumane conditions in facilities controlled by armed groups or ‘secret facilities.’” UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said that many of these detainees were being arbitrarily detained after the country undertook security operations in late 2021, using “excessive and disproportionate force.” The operations reportedly “targeted more than 5,150 migrants and refugees, including at least 1,000 women and children, and left families separated and children missing.”

Guterres also criticized “expulsions from Libya’s eastern and southern borders of hundreds of nationals from Chad, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia and Sudan to Sudan and Chad, which the secretary-general said “did not respect the prohibition of collective expulsion” and the return of people without their consent, “and placed many asylum seekers and migrants in extremely vulnerable positions.” (AP)

According to the REACH initiative, as of June 2021, 597,611 migrants were estimated to be residing in the country, while the UNHCR recorded 41,404 individuals as registered refugees or asylum seekers in November 2021.

The UN report also noted that the UN Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) continues to document cases of arbitrary detention, torture, sexual violence, and other violations of international law within facilities operated by the country’s government and other groups. According to Guterres, thousands of detainees who do not appear in the official statistics provided by Libyan authorities are unable to challenge the legal basis for their continued detention and that “female and male migrants and refugees continued to face heightened risks of rape, sexual harassment and trafficking by armed groups, transnational smuggles and traffickers as well as officials from the Directorate for Combating Illegal Migration, which operates under the Ministry of Interior.”

The report highlighted several abuse cases in the Mitiga prison facility and in several detention centres run by the Directorate for Combating Illegal migration in al-Zawiyah and in Tripoli, about which the U.N. mission had received “credible information on trafficking and sexual abuse of around 30 Nigerian women and children.”

As of 14 December 2021, the Libyan Coast Guard had intercepted 30,990 migrants and returned them to Libya during the year which is around three times the total number of people returned to the country in 2020 (12,000 people). Guterres added that more than 1,300 people have died or disappeared attempting the journey.

Since Libya’s security operations in late 2021, thousands of people have been sleeping rough in front of a UNHCR-run reception centre in Tripoli, which was closed on 10 January 2022. Sholty after UNHCR initially announced the impending closing of the facility in late 2021, , Libyan authorities reportedly violently arrested more hundreds migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers.

According to Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), “more than 600 migrants, asylum seekers, and refugees, peacefully demonstrating for relocation, and evacuation from Libya were arrested and moved to Ain Zara detention centre in the southern part of Tripoli, where hundreds of migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers are already detained in overcrowded cells and deprived living conditions. During the weekly visit to Ain Zara to provide medical and mental health care to people detained, MSF teams have treated patients with stab wounds, beating marks, and signs of shock or trauma caused by the forced arrests. Among them there were people who had been beaten and separated from their children during the raids.”

MSF said it had treated 68 people who had been injured during the mass arrest and a medical team from the International Rescue Committee said they had treated one person suffering from a gunshot wound. A Twitter account calling itself Refugees in Libya, run by a South Sudanese migrant living in Libya, reported on the inhumane conditions inside the Ain Zara detention centre and videos taken inside the centre showed hundreds of people packed into a single hangar.

While the country began its national vaccination campaign against COVID-19 in April 2021, the country only began vaccinating people held for immigration-related reasons in October 2021. On 6 October 2021, one of the reception centres in Tripoli began vaccinating migrants. According to the IOM, as of 11 December 2021, a total of 7,559 migrants had been vaccinated. By 6 February 2022, the country had administered around 3.1 million doses of vaccine against COVID-19. The country has one of the highest vaccination rates in Africa.