UNHCR evacuates hundreds of detained refugees in Libya to safety

Geneva, 24 April 2019 – UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, has today evacuated some 325 refugees from the Qaser Ben Gasheer detention centre in southern Tripoli amid deteriorating security and escalating violence.

The relocation, carried out together with IOM, was triggered by reports on Tuesday of the use of armed violence against detainees who were protesting the conditions in which they were being held, with gunshots reported to have been fired in the air. While there were no bullet wounds, 12 refugees were injured and required hospital treatment.

“The dangers for refugees and migrants in Tripoli have never been greater than they are at present,” said Matthew Brook, UNHCR Deputy Chief of Mission in Libya. “It is vital that refugees in danger can be released and evacuated to safety.”

The refugees have been transferred to the Azzawya detention centre, where they are at reduced risk of being caught up in the hostilities.

Upon arrival they were provided with key aid items and medical care by UNHCR and its partner the International Medical Corps. The most vulnerable, including women and children, are being identified and will be taken to UNHCR’s Gathering and Departure Facility.

The relocation was carried out with support from the Libyan authorities, UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) and UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

A humanitarian pause was coordinated and facilitated with all parties to the conflict to allow for the safe passage of the migrants and refugees.

The relocation is the fourth UNHCR-organized transfer since the recent escalation of the conflict in Libya as our teams endeavour to get detainees out of harm’s way.

UNHCR has relocated more than 825 refugees from the Ain Zara, Abu Salim, Sikka, Qaser Ben Gasheer, Tajoura and Zintan detention centres in the past two weeks alone.

UNHCR remains concerned for some 3,000 refugees and migrants who remain in detention centres in Tripoli.

The deteriorating security situation means it is imperative that refugees and migrants are immediately released and provided a pathway to safety.

While the violence continues, UNHCR and humanitarian agencies’ teams have restricted access to detention centres to provide vital lifesaving aid and assistance.

Current conditions in Libya continue to underline the fact that it is a dangerous and unsuitable place for refugees and migrants. UNHCR reiterates that no effort should be spared to prevent those rescued at sea from being returned to Libya.