UNHCR says gravely concerned for safety of asylum seekers, refugees in Libya

Briefing Notes, 22 February 2011

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Melissa Fleming to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 22 February 2011, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

With the events of the past few days in Libyan Arab Jamahiriya (Libya), UNHCR has become increasingly concerned about dangers for civilians and especially for asylum-seekers and refugees as many may inadvertently be caught up in this violence.

We have no access at this time to the refugee community. Over the past months we have been trying to regularize our presence in Libya, and this has constrained our work.

Some of the reports we are getting from third-party sources are very worrying. A journalist has passed information to us from Somalis in Tripoli who say they are being hunted on suspicion of being mercenaries. He says they feel trapped and are frightened to go out, even though there is little or no food at home.

Prior to the current unrest UNHCR had registered over 8,000 refugees in Libya, with a further 3,000 asylum-seekers having pending cases. The main places of origin are Palestine, Sudan, Iraq, Eritrea, Somalia and Chad.

We ask all countries to recognize the humanitarian needs at this time of all people fleeing targeted violence, threats, and other human rights abuses in Libya.

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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

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 in Libya: Misrata, Benghazi and Tobruk

Thousands of people still remain displaced in eastern Libya as a result of the conflict that erupted in mid-February between government and opposition forces. Most are staying with host families, in empty buildings or schools. Other people of concern to UNHCR, such as refugees and asylum-seekers, have fled conflict areas such as Misrata by boat to safer locations. They are now hoping to return to their homes in Libya, be resettled to a third country, or to return to their countries of origin. UNHCR's Helene Caux has photographed the plight of internally displaced people (IDPs), refugees and migrants in Misrata, Benghazi and Tobruk.

Displacement in Libya: Misrata, Benghazi and Tobruk

UNHCR Syrians KhomsPlay video

UNHCR Syrians Khoms

The end of a long, silent journey: Two Eritreans in Libya Play video

The end of a long, silent journey: Two Eritreans in Libya

Two Eritreans set out on a perilous journey to Europe, crossing Sudan and the Sahara arriving in Libya during its 2011 revolution. They arrive in Tripoli having avoided the risks of detention and despite contending with a crippling handicap: both David and his wife Amitu are deaf and mute.
Libya: Cost of WarPlay video

Libya: Cost of War

Sirte was heavily damaged during last year's fighting.