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No safe place to go for asylum seekers trapped in Libya

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No safe place to go for asylum seekers trapped in Libya

We fear that we will be arrested and detained again

TRIPOLI, Libya, October 14, 2021 / APO Group / –

When Libyan forces swept Tripoli’s Gergaresh neighborhood earlier this month in a security crackdown, 17-year-old Eritrean mechanic Hamza * was caught in the net.

Arrested at his home, he was among thousands of migrants and asylum seekers crammed into the Ghot Al Shaal detention center in unsanitary conditions, before managing to escape with others.

“There were so many people – thousands of people were there. There was no toilet and food was very scarce. It was terrible. Because of this, people decided to escape, ”he says.

The youngster is now part of a large crowd of refugees and asylum seekers gathered outside a community day center run by UNHCR, the United Nations refugee agency, in the Libyan capital. Some have been directly affected by the recent security crackdown, having lost their homes and property or have recently escaped detention. Others gathered outside the CDC hoping to be given priority for evacuation or resettlement.

“We had nowhere to go. We couldn’t go back to Gergaresh. There is nowhere to go, ”says Hamza.

Daily life has always been very difficult for asylum seekers and refugees in Libya, which has been rocked by war and political turmoil over the past decade, and hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic. The absence of a national asylum law means that they are considered “illegal migrants” and are liable to arrest, detention and abuse.

But nothing prepared them for the events of this month. During the widespread crackdown on October 1 in Hai Alandalus municipality – which includes Gergaresh – security forces demolished unfinished and makeshift homes housing asylum seekers and migrants. At least seven people were reportedly killed during the operation in the following days. This week, a Sudanese asylum seeker was killed in the streets of Tripoli, after being beaten and shot.

Many vulnerable asylum seekers and refugees have lost their homes, belongings and livelihoods in the ongoing crackdown, and say they now have no safe place to go in Tripoli.

“Everywhere you move, there are checkpoints,” says Hamza, who was unable to resume his job as a mechanic. “We fear that we will be arrested and detained again. The movement is very difficult, ”he said.

Maha *, a 21-year-old Sudanese asylum seeker, was briefly detained at Ghot Al Shaal detention center and joined others outside the UNHCR Community Day Center. “It’s dangerous to move. I’m afraid of being arrested again, ”she said.

UNHCR and its partners at the center initially provided emergency cash or prepaid cards, food and hygiene kits to urgent cases, but were forced to temporarily suspend CDC operations amid a backdrop of crisis. Tensions escalated as large crowds of people gathered outside the building.

Some of the most vulnerable people are assisted through outreach activities in places where shelter has been found. In an urban town of Tripoli this week, asylum seekers received food packages, cash assistance and replacement parts for lost UNHCR papers.

“This food will help me for a while and I’ll share it with others,” says Hamza.

Emergency cash assistance is helping meet some basic needs, but asylum seekers whose homes have been demolished say average rents have now more than doubled and options are limited as many landlords have afraid of renting to strangers.

As part of UNHCR’s caregivers program, temporary shelters have been provided by other asylum seekers to some of the most vulnerable people, including single mothers, unaccompanied children or people with health problems. But many of the community’s caregivers and volunteers have themselves been raided, displaced or detained, while others are simply struggling to meet growing needs.

“Today there are almost 30 of us in my house and we are doing our best to provide food for everyone, but we are running out of money and supplies,” said Fatima *, a Sudanese asylum seeker. and caregiver. Initially housing three people, it has now taken in 21 other people, including five children.

“Many vulnerable families have reached out to us begging for shelter. I welcome many Eritreans escaped from detention. One of them has been crying for days, unable to eat, drink or even sleep. The detention center guards started shooting at them and killed one of her friends, ”she said.

UNHCR calls for the release of refugees and migrants and an end to arbitrary detentions, as well as respect for their human rights and dignity at all times. However, in the midst of the angst and turmoil, long-term solutions are urgently needed.

Humanitarian flights from Libya are a vital lifeline for the most vulnerable. But for much of that year they have been suspended by the Libyan authorities, although UNHCR has repeatedly called for their resumption.

The suspension means some resettlement countries have informed UNHCR that they can no longer receive submissions from Libya this year. This will result in the loss of 162 places on direct resettlement flights and could jeopardize nearly 1,000 places through the Emergency Transit Mechanism, which provides vital respite in Rwanda and Niger for refugees and asylum seekers. vulnerable while long-term alternatives are sought.

There is a long list of desperate people who have already been selected for the flights.

Without these solutions, many asylum seekers have no choice but to risk everything in dangerous sea voyages across the Mediterranean or to stay in Libya and be exposed to acute risks of abuse, exploitation or misery.

* The names of asylum seekers have changed for protection reasons.

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