“Almost all of the migrants disembarked in Libya by the coast guard end up in detention centers”

Jean-Paul Cavalieri has been head of the mission of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Tripoli since 2019. He has worked for the agency since 1991 and has notably been stationed in Hungary, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Russia, Lebanon and Morocco. He explains that while attention is focused on migrants trying to cross the Mediterranean, Libya is essentially a place of destination.

In Libya, migrants are arrested en masse, some have been killed during attempts to escape … Is the situation deteriorating suddenly in this country?

So far, the centers of the Libyan Department for Combating Illegal Migration (DCIM), which comes under the Ministry of the Interior, have had around 5,000 detained migrants. Most of them had been intercepted at sea while attempting to cross the Mediterranean. 1is October, for the first time in many years and under the pretext of fighting prostitution and drug trafficking, massive and brutal raids were launched in a district of the Libyan capital, Tripoli. They are semi-ghettos, with homes and abandoned buildings, where migrants and asylum seekers congregate and live because they cannot find other accommodation.

“In 2019, we were able to evacuate 2,400 people out of some 50,000 refugees in the territory. “

As a result of these arrests, the detainee population doubled. And in a few days, 5,000 people were brought to a center intended for 1,000 people. UNHCR went there to distribute mattresses, blankets and carry out emergency medical examinations with a partner NGO. However, our teams had to leave the premises afterwards, due to an insufficient number of guards and the occurrence of several incidents. On October 8, during a large escape attempt, six detainees were killed. Of the 2,000 who fled, half were arrested again that evening. Others came to gather in front of the UNHCR center, among them gunshot wounds. Around 3,000 people are doing a sit-in in front of our center today. They have lost everything: their meager possessions and their homes which have been destroyed.

These migrants all want to be evacuated and resettled in the West. However, it is impossible. Departures planned under the refugee resettlement program will be able to resume, but they had been blocked by DCIM since April and they are, in any case, insufficient. [Mis en place depuis 2011 par le HCR, ce programme vise à transférer dans des pays tiers partenaires des personnes identifiées comme particulièrement vulnérables ou dépourvues de perspective d’intégration dans leur premier pays de refuge.] Globally, only 1% of them manage to be resettled. In Libya, more than 1,150 refugees are awaiting departure. In 2019, we were able to evacuate 2,400 people out of some 50,000 refugees in the country. France is also one of the host countries.

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