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UNHCR dismayed as traffickers, smugglers impersonate staff in Libya amid clashes in Tripoli

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UNHCR dismayed as traffickers, smugglers impersonate staff in Libya amid clashes in Tripoli

8 September 2018
A group of disembarked refugees and migrants sit on the floor, joined by a UNHCR staff member wearing a tan UNHCR vest with blue logo.
A genuine UNHCR protection officer collects information from disembarked refugees and migrants in Tripoli, Libya, in July 2018.

UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, is dismayed at reports of smugglers and traffickers posing as UNHCR staff in Libya and calls on the authorities for action against all criminals trying to target desperate refugees and migrants.

Reliable reports by our sources and refugees suggest that traffickers and smugglers are impersonating UN staff, including UNHCR, at different locations in Libya. These criminals were spotted at disembarkation points and smuggling hubs, using vests and other items with logos similar to that of UNHCR.

UNHCR information comes from refugees who report having been sold to traffickers in Libya, and subjected to abuse and torture, including after having been intercepted at sea. UNHCR is collecting more information and investigating these allegations.

In Libya, UNHCR and its partners are present at official disembarkation points to provide lifesaving humanitarian and medical assistance to refugees and migrants, including food, water and clothes.

Once the smuggled passengers are back on land, the Libyan authorities transport them to detention centres, managed by the Directorate for Combatting Illegal Migration (under the Ministry of Interior). UNHCR teams are also present there to monitor the situation, aid and identify the most vulnerable in order to try to find solutions, especially in third countries.

UNHCR is not engaged in transferring refugees from disembarkation points to detention centres.

In Tripoli, the situation of refugees and migrants living in urban areas or detained has dramatically deteriorated in recent weeks, due to heavy clashes in the Libyan capital.

UNHCR has received reports of unspeakable atrocities committed against refugees and asylum-seekers in the streets of Tripoli, including rape, kidnapping and torture. One woman told UNHCR that unknown criminals kidnapped her husband and then raped her and tortured her one-year-old baby. She said the child was stripped naked and sexually harassed by the criminals.

Many refugees were detained in areas close to the clashes and were at risk of being a collateral damage if rockets hit the centres. Thousands escaped detention centres, in a desperate attempt to save their lives.

UNHCR is opposed to the detention of refugees and asylum-seekers, but it is present in places where refugees are located to provide them with life-saving assistance.

UNHCR strongly calls for alternatives to detention to be put in place, including the immediate use of the Gathering and Departure Facility in Tripoli, which will serve as a platform to find safety in third countries, and which will be managed by the Libyan Ministry of Interior and by UNHCR. The facility has the capacity to host 1,000 vulnerable refugees and asylum-seekers and is ready for use.

UNHCR is further calling for strong institutional action to hold smugglers and traffickers accountable.

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