UNHCR chief Guterres calls for safety of third-country nationals in Libya

News Stories, 22 August 2011

© UNHCR/F.Noy
Migrant workers from sub-Saharan Africa sit by the sea in Benghazi, eastern Libya.

GENEVA, August 22 (UNHCR) UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres today called on all sides of the conflict in Libya to ensure that the thousands of third-country nationals trapped in Tripoli and other areas by the continuing fighting are properly protected from harm.

"Thousands of third-country nationals in Libya will be feeling great fear and uncertainty at this time," he said. "We have seen at earlier stages in this crisis that such people, Africans especially, can be particularly vulnerable to hostility or acts of vengeance. It is crucial that humanitarian law prevails through these climactic moments and that foreigners including refugees and migrant workers are being fully and properly protected from harm."

It is crucial that humanitarian law prevails through these climactic moments and that foreigners including refugees and migrant workers are being fully and properly protected from harm.

António Guterres
UN High Commissioner for Refugees

Hundreds of thousands of migrant workers, as well as people with international protection needs, have fled Libya to neighbouring countries over the course of the Libya crisis. However, many tens of thousands are believed to have remained in Tripoli and other areas.

People from sub-Saharan Africa, in particular, have been harassed or attacked because of rumours that many of them are mercenaries hired to fight in the war, which erupted in February. Many have risked their lives to escape from Libya by sea in a bid to reach Europe.

UNHCR has a presence in the besieged Libyan capital, Tripoli, and in the east of the country. UNHCR teams have also been operating on the Tunisian and Egyptian borders.

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Advocacy

Advocacy is a key element in UNHCR activities to protect people of concern.

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

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.
Khaled Hosseini - No one chooses to be a refugeePlay video

Khaled Hosseini - No one chooses to be a refugee

UNHCR's 2012 World Refugee Day global social advocacy campaign, "Dilemmas", aims to help fight intolerance and xenophobia against refugees. UNHCR Goodwill Envoy Khaled Hosseini and a host of other celebrities echo the same strong message: No one chooses to be a refugee.