Libya: Continuing concern about the situation of third country nationals and Libyan displaced

Briefing Notes, 16 September 2011

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Adrian Edwards to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 16 September 2011, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

UNHCR and partners in Libya continue to be concerned about the situation of third country nationals, including refugees. UNHCR and IOM have been working closely with the National Transitional Council Stabilization Team to try to improve the protection situation for refugees and migrants. The Stabilization Team is already coordinating with the Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of Interior to put into place a strategy that includes public messages to the general public, temporary documentation for migrants and identification of shelter and other services for vulnerable migrants, asylum-seekers and refugees.

UNHCR staff have carried out a series of field visits to areas where refugees and asylum-seekers are living in Tripoli. UNHCR met with a group of 60 Sudanese from Darfur, some of whom were injured when they were caught up in the conflict, but otherwise reporting stable relations with the local community. A group of Eritreans said that two of their compatriots died in cross fire during the conflict in Sabha. Since UNHCR and IOM have restored their respective hotline services in the Tripoli area, large numbers of calls have been received from refugees and migrants reporting numerous protection incidents, including detention and need for food assistance.

UNHCR has been contacted by the local military council in Zintan, Nafussa mountains, asking us to identify solutions for a group of third country nationals, reportedly Somalis. UNHCR has also heard from a group of Somalis fleeing the Sabha area currently surrounded by NTC forces. IOM and UNHCR together with an implementing partner are organizing evacuation of this group to Tripoli.

UNHCR has also made a number of visits to areas where Libyans are displaced. Over a thousand people from the village of Tewergha (30 km south of Bani Walid) are living in three displacement settlements in the Tripoli suburbs. They say their homes and schools had been destroyed. In addition, around 6000 people from Tarhona (55 km south-east of Tripoli) are living in three different sites in the suburbs of Tripoli and a number of schools. Another 6000 people from Bani Walid fled the conflict to three locations between 30 and 60 km from Bani Walid.

Meanwhile in the east of the country Libyan Aid has reported that there are still over 50,000 displaced, just under half in Benghazi, although initial returns are reported in a number of towns, such as Ajdabiya. Only a small number of those displaced from Brega have returned home so far, stating lack of electricity, medical services and presence of unexploded ordinances as the main barriers to return. UNHCR's partner, ACTED is undertaking an assessment of shelter damage in eastern Libya and will distribute UNHCR shelter items and cooking kits to hundreds of families from Brega, Ras Lanouf, Zlitan and other cities.

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Resettlement from Tunisia's Choucha Camp

Between February and October 2011, more than 1 million people crossed into Tunisia to escape conflict in Libya. Most were migrant workers who made their way home or were repatriated, but the arrivals included refugees and asylum-seekers who could not return home or live freely in Tunisia.

UNHCR has been trying to find solutions for these people, most of whom ended up in the Choucha Transit Camp near Tunisia's border with Libya. Resettlement remains the most viable solution for those registered as refugees at Choucha before a cut-off date of December 1, 2011.

As of late April, 14 countries had accepted 2,349 refugees for resettlement, 1,331 of whom have since left Tunisia. The rest are expected to leave Choucha later this year. Most have gone to Australia, Norway and the United States. But there are a more than 2,600 refugees and almost 140 asylum-seekers still in the camp. UNHCR continues to advocate with resettlement countries to find solutions for them.

Resettlement from Tunisia's Choucha Camp

On the Border: Stuck in Sallum

After violence erupted in Libya in February last year, tens of thousands of people began streaming into Egypt at the Sallum border crossing. Most were Egyptian workers, but almost 40,000 third country nationals also turned up at the border and had to wait until they could be repatriated. Today, with the spotlight long gone, a group of more than 2,000 people remain, mainly single young male refugees from the Sudan. But there are also women, children and the sick and elderly waiting for a solution to their situation. Most are likely to be resettled in third countries, but those who arrived after October are not being considered for resettlement, while some others have been rejected for refugee status. They live in tough conditions at the Egyptian end of the border crossing. A site for a new camp in no man's land has been identified. UNHCR, working closely with the border authorities, plays the major role in providing protection and assistance.

On the Border: Stuck in Sallum

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

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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.
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Libya: Cost of War

Sirte was heavily damaged during last year's fighting.