Vulnerable refugees evacuated from Libya during visit of UNHCR head
TRIPOLI, Libya – UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi boarded a chartered flight today (Tuesday, June 19) bound for Niger with 122 refugees, mostly women and children, on board.
The refugees, who had been held in detention in the Libyan capital, were identified by UNHCR as "extremely vulnerable" and qualifying for evacuation and resettlement under a new international programme. After further processing in Niger, the refugees will be transferred to participating third countries offering asylum.
Earlier in the day, Grandi visited the group of evacuees as they were preparing to leave the Triq Al Sika Detention Centre in Tripoli, where they had spent months in overcrowded spaces.
Women remaining behind waved and sobbed.
There he witnessed the refugees board buses with a suitcase each of their belongings, many clutching young babies, some the result of the sexual attacks they experienced on their journeys. Eritrean women in one of the buses expressed relief to be departing, breaking into a song of prayer. Women remaining behind waved and sobbed as the buses pulled away, worried they would not have the same chance and remain indefinitely detained.
Grandi thanked the Libyan authorities for allowing UNHCR access to 6,000 people held in government-run detention facilities. This access allows UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, to identify and evacuate persons in need of international protection and improve conditions, which he said had gotten better since his last visit over one year ago but were still “appalling”.
He noted UNHCR and the Libyan Ministry of Interior will soon open a new Gathering and Departure Centre, which will accommodate up to 1,000 vulnerable refugees in a dignified environment while their cases are processed for evacuations or direct resettlement to third countries.
Grandi reiterated his call on the international community to make 40,000 places available for refugees in Libya and from 14 other countries along the Central Mediterranean route. He commended countries for committing 25,000 places, but expressed his disappointment that less than 2,000 refugees have been resettled so far.
"Implementation of these offers is very slow.”
“Unfortunately, implementation of these offers is very slow,” Grandi said, appealing to resettlement countries to accelerate their procedures directly from Libya and from the transit facility in Niger.
Meanwhile, desperate refugees and migrants continue to pay ruthless smugglers for dangerous boat trips to Europe. Many have fallen victim to torture, rape or human slavery by criminal gangs along the route. The rubber dinghies or unseaworthy wooden boats they are forced to board are notoriously overcrowded and many capsize.
On a visit to the disembarkation pier where rescued or intercepted refugees and migrants are returned by the Libyan Coast Guard, Grandi tossed a bouquet of flowers into the water to honour the memory of the lives lost at sea.
“There’s a lot of talk about numbers,” he said. “People arriving in Libya, crossing through Libya, people trying to cross the sea from this coastline. It’s always numbers. People arriving in Europe. People being disembarked. It’s always, always numbers. And I think it’s not about numbers, it’s about people."
"These are women. These are men. These are children. Desperate people who are risking their lives, and often losing their lives, to go to a better future. And for many of them, the end is tragic, and I think it’s particularly those that have lost their lives that we want to remember here and now on this jetty,” he added.
During the visit, the High Commissioner also met with members of the 370 internally displaced Libyan families from the city of Tawergha who found refuge in the Triq Al Matar settlement on the outskirts of Tripoli seven years ago. “We are also providing support to Libyan people who have been and continue to be displaced by tensions in the country,” Mr. Grandi said, appealing for more support for Libyan displaced people. “They should not be forgotten.”
Grandi was speaking on the day a new report from UNHCR revealed that wars, violence and persecution had uprooted record numbers of men, women and children worldwide last year, making a new global deal on refugees more critical than ever.