Over 100,000 people displaced in Libya over the past three weeks

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Adrian Edwards to whom quoted text may be attributed at today's press briefing at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

With fighting among rival armed groups intensifying in a number of areas of Libya, we are seeing growing displacement - now estimated at 287,000 people in 29 cities and towns countrywide. The need for healthcare, food, and other basic commodities - plus for shelter ahead of winter - has become critical. UNHCR and its partners are responding to some of these needs. But we face major constraints in funding for the internally displaced, while the security situation over recent months has posed challenges in reaching those in need.

The main area of recent displacement has been around Warshefana on the outskirts of Tripoli, where fighting has caused some 100,000 people to flee in the last three weeks. This, along with the Benina area outside Benghazi is among the worst affected areas. Some 15,000 people are estimated to be displaced around Benghazi.

Most displaced people are living with local families who in some cases have opened their homes to several families at a time to meet the growing need for shelter. People unable to stay with relatives or host families sleep in schools, parks or non-residential buildings converted into emergency shelters.

The growing number of displaced people is outstripping the capacities of local communities, from whom we are hearing increasing concern about the ability to cope.

An example of the increasing humanitarian needs and shrinking humanitarian space is the situation in the small town of Ajaylat, some 80 kilometres west of Tripoli. Ajaylat, a town normally of about 100,000, is currently hosting some 16,000 displaced people. With displaced people now making up over 10 per cent of the local population, health facilities are struggling to cope.

The main hospital there reports a 30 per cent increase in cases and lacks essential medical supplies and medicines for chronic illnesses such as hypertension and diabetes. Other towns across western Libya and in Benghazi are facing similar strain.

Efforts to assist the displaced are hampered by limited access for humanitarians to towns affected by fighting between rival armed groups. When security permits cross-border aid convoys are the only way to get supplies to people in need, as access to warehouses inside the country is often impossible.

UNHCR and our partner International Medical Corps despatched the first relief convoy for 12,000 displaced people in western Libya in August. In partnership with WFP who provided food items, UNHCR and IMC have also distributed additional non-food aid to 6,700 people in recent weeks. But additional help is needed, and for this better access is required. The UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) has called for an immediate ceasefire and access to carry out further assessment missions and distribution of humanitarian aid.

The UN has issued a humanitarian appeal for Libya requesting additional funding to continue helping hundreds of thousands of people affected by the ongoing crisis in the country.

As well as the impact on the local population, the fighting is also affecting refugees, asylum-seekers, and migrants in Libya - many of them from Middle Eastern countries and Sub-Saharan Africa. The lawlessness and a recent doubling of food prices has made many desperate to leave. Libya's policy of detaining refugees and migrants has pushed many to put their lives in the hands of smugglers to try to get to Europe - joining the tens of thousands of people who in recent months have transited through Libya and made the dangerous journey across the Mediterranean. Of the more than 165,000 who have arrived on Europe's shores so far this year, the majority departed from Libya - of whom 48% are Syrians and Eritreans.

Many have not made it far from the Libyan coast. The latest tragedy among many others off the coast of Zuwara, near Tripoli, on 2 October where over 100 people, mostly Syrian nationals, have died or are missing highlights the need for alternative and safer legal channels for refugee and asylum-seekers.

For more information on this topic, please contact:

  • In Geneva, Adrian Edwards on mobile +41 79 557 9120
  • In Geneve, Francis Markus on mobile +41 79 301 1966
  • In Tunis (Libya ops), Dunnapar Fern Tilakamonkul on mobile +216 58 335 123