back to the Immigration Detention Monitor

30 July 2020 – Libya

A Refugee's Bed in a Shared Room Where He Sleeps with 9 Other People in January 2020, (G. Piscitelli,
A Refugee's Bed in a Shared Room Where He Sleeps with 9 Other People in January 2020, (G. Piscitelli, "Conflict and Covid-19 Adds Up to A crisis in Libya," MSF, 2 June 2020,

Responding to the Global Detention Project’s Covid-19 survey, an official from an international organisation, verified by the GDP, reported that no moratorium had been established in the country and that no immigration detainees had been released as a result of the pandemic (see 15 May Libya update on this platform). According to the official, authorities have not established any mechanisms or systems to protect people in case of release. UNHCR, however, has put protocols in place, following WHO recommendations and in coordination with health partners and counterparts, in order to address the Covid-19 situation and ensure the continuation of activities in the protection of refugees and asylum-seekers.

The source also said that immigration detainees were not routinely tested for Covid-19 and that deportations had not been suspended. The country has closed certain airports and increased monitoring at the borders, but no specific policies or laws have been adopted.

On 15 June, UNHCR and WFP launched a joint programme to provide emergency food aid to refugees and asylum-seekers living in the urban community in Tripoli, aiming to reach 10,000 individuals this year. As of 18 June, 4,551 refugees and migrants had been registered as rescued/intercepted at sea by the Libyan Coast Guard and disembarked in Libya. On 17 June, two disembarkation operations took place during which 320 individuals were returned to Tripoli. UNHCR and its partner, the International Rescue Committee, were present to provide urgent medical assistance and core relief items, before individuals were transferred to detention centres by the Libyan authorities. According to UNHCR, there are 48,834 registered refugees and asylum-seekers in Libya and 231 have been released from detention in 2020.

MSF has stated that they are particularly concerned about the situation of refugees, asylum seekers and migrants in detention, those in urban settings, and those in need of evacuation/resettlement. MSF indicated that the 1,500 people currently held in detention centres across Libya are being detained in overcrowded conditions with poor access to food, adequate water, hygiene, and no actual possibilities for physical distancing. Those migrants, refugees and asylum-seekers living in urban settings are living in precarious conditions and are at risk of arbitrary arrest and detention, trafficking, and exploitation.

UNHCR and IOM have suspended refugee resettlement departures and evacuations out of Libya, leaving the most vulnerable stranded. Due to border closures and the suspension of repatriation, evacuation, and resettlement, the only option out of Libya is via the sea.

MSF is providing medical and humanitarian assistance to migrants and refugees in one detention centre in Tripoli as others have been emptied or closed due to the Covid-19 pandemic and the escalating conflict. In Misrata and the Central Region, MSF teams are inter alia, distributing nutrition supplements and hygiene kits to refugees and migrants arbitrarily held in detention centres in Souk Al-Khamis, Zliten, and Dhar El-Jebel. The teams are also providing Covid-19 related training to staff in Zliten, Misrate, Khoms, Yefren, and Bani Walid as well as reinforcing infection prevention and control measures in detention centres.

On 7 April, the Libyan Ministry of Justice announced that “in order to prevent infections of the coronavirus pandemic and reduce overcrowding inside correction and rehabilitation facilities, the process to release those who are detained pending investigations and trials continues.” By the end of March, 1,347 detainees had been released from correction and rehabilitation facilities throughout several cities in the country. The Ministry also announced that health care units would continue to distribute a number of medical and preventive equipment to prisons and rehabilitation centres in Tripoli, including hand sterilisers and disinfectants.

On 2 June, the Embassy of the United States in Libya announced that the U.S. government committed an additional $6.5 million in support of Libya’s Covid-19 response, which includes helping municipalities formalise their crisis response functions, develop emergency management plans and train teams in crisis emergency response. The embassy stated that this additional support would also help increase public awareness and provide assistance to migrants and refugees in Libya during the pandemic.