UNHCR chief and Libyan partner discuss protection for refugees in mixed migration flows

News Stories, 15 October 2009

© UNHCR/M.Alwash
A group of Africans who were trying to reach Europe from Libya before being pushed back by the Italian navy and turned over to the authorities in Tripoli. Some may have been refugees or asylum-seekers.

GENEVA, October 15 (UNHCR) UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres has held talks with UNHCR's main partner in Libya on the pressing issue of ensuring protection for refugees and asylum-seekers caught in mixed migration flows from Africa to Europe.

Each year, thousands of people from sub-Saharan Africa risk their lives to reach Libya, where they hope to board smuggler's boats for the perilous journey across the Mediterranean to Europe. Most are motivated by economic or family reasons, but many are fleeing persecution or war and are thus of concern to UNHCR.

Guterres and Gamal Al-Grable, a special envoy of the president of the International Organization for Peace, Care and Relief (IOPCR), met at the UNHCR headquarters in Geneva earlier this week to discuss ways to further boost cooperation and to ensure that all refugees and asylum-seekers detained in migration flows in Libya receive the international protection they are entitled to.

"IOPCR has played a significant role in facilitating UNHCR's work in the country" since the two sides signed a partnership agreement in 2007, Guterres told Al-Grable. "While much has been done, both organizations recognize that it is important to increase our joint efforts to overcome the remaining difficulties with the aim of establishing a comprehensive asylum system in Libya."

Al-Grable also met Assistant High Commissioner for Protection Erika Feller to discuss the mixed migration issue as well as UNHCR's presence and work in Libya. The two sides agreed to work together to improve reception facilities for people of concern to UNHCR and to seek durable solutions for them.

To date, the Tripoli-based IOPCR has helped UNHCR to secure the release of more than 630 people determined to be refugees or asylum-seekers. Moreover, the IOPCR helped UNHCR and other partners get permission to open offices in the south and east, where migration routes enter Libya. And last week, UNHCR was granted access to an additional seven detention centres, raising the total to 15 throughout the country. UNHCR is working with its partners to improve the living conditions in these centres.

Libya has come under criticism for its policies of detaining people caught in mixed migration flows, especially since Italy launched a push-back policy in the southern Mediterranean earlier this year. Italian naval vessels force intercepted boats to return to Libya, where those on board are detained.

UNHCR has on a number of occasions expressed serious concern about the impact of the push-back policy and has urged European Union member states not to turn away those who were in need of international protection.

Thanks to its agreements with Libya and the IOPCR, the UN refugee agency has been able as of the end of September to screen 890 people who were detained after being pushed back by the Italian navy. Of those, 206 were released and registered as refugees after saying they feared for their safety if sent back home.

UNHCR has been calling on countries to offer resettlement places for refugees in Libya for whom no other durable solutions are available. More than 250 have been identified as suitable for resettlement, including some refugees accepted by Italy earlier this year and waiting for their papers to be processed before leaving.

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UNHCR country pages

UNHCR Supplementary Appeal

UNHCR Supplementary Budget: The Libya Situation, March 2011

Refugee Protection and Mixed Migration: A 10-Point Plan of Action

A UNHCR strategy setting out key areas in which action is required to address the phenomenon of mixed and irregular movements of people. See also: Schematic representation of a profiling and referral mechanism in the context of addressing mixed migratory movements.

Mixed Migration

Migrants are different from refugees but the two sometimes travel alongside each other.

The High Commissioner

António Guterres, who joined UNHCR on June 15, 2005, is the UN refugee agency's 10th High Commissioner.

Angelina Jolie meets boat people in Malta, Lampedusa

Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie joined UNHCR chief António Guterres on the Italian island of Lampedusa, where they met with boat people who have fled unrest in North Africa.

More than 40,000 people, including refugees and asylum-seekers, have crossed the Mediterranean on overcrowded boats and descended on the small island since the beginning of the year.

The UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador flew to Lampedusa from Malta, which has also been a destination for people fleeing North Africa by boat.

Angelina Jolie meets boat people in Malta, Lampedusa

Displacement Challenges for Libya

Libya endured severe upheaval in 2011 and the next government faces major challenges moving the country forward after four decades of Muammar Gaddafi's rigid rule. One task will be addressing and resolving the issue of tens of thousands of internally displaced people. Some are waiting for their homes to be repaired or rebuilt, but many more have been forced to desert their towns and villages because of their perceived support for Gaddafi and alleged crimes committed during the conflict. Meanwhile, growing numbers of people, including refugees and asylum-seekers, are coming to Libya from sub-Saharan Africa on well travelled mixed migration routes. Some are being detained as illegal immigrants, though many are people of concern. Others have risked the dangerous sea crossing to southern Europe.

Displacement Challenges for Libya

Crisis in Libya

UNHCR is working with the Tunisian and Egyptian authorities and aid groups to manage the dramatic influx of tens of thousands of people fleeing Libya. By the beginning of March, two weeks after the violence erupted in Libya, more than 140,000 people had fled to the neighbouring countries, while thousands more were waiting to cross. Most are Egyptian and Tunisian nationals, though small numbers of Libyans and other nationalities are managing to escape. UNHCR is particularly concerned about thousands of refugees and other foreigners trapped inside Libya, especially people from sub-Saharan Africa. The following photo essay gives a glimpse into what is happening at the borders.

Crisis in Libya

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