UNHCR issues urgent appeal for release and evacuation of detained refugees caught in Libyan crossfire

In light of the dramatically worsening security situation in Libya’s capital, Tripoli, UNHCR is urgently calling for the immediate release of refugees and migrants from places of detention. Many of these facilities are in areas where there is ongoing fighting.

Amid ongoing clashes in Tripoli, Libya, UNHCR has relocated 150 vulnerable refugees from the Ain Zara detention centre, south of Tripoli, to our Gathering and Departure Facility in the centre of Tripoli. © UNHCR/Noor Elshin

In light of the dramatically worsening security situation in Libya’s capital, Tripoli, UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, is urgently calling for the immediate release of refugees and migrants from places of detention. Many of these facilities are in areas where there is ongoing fighting.

Since the escalation of the conflict in Libya last week, more than 9,500 people have been forced to flee their homes. However, more than 1,500 refugees and migrants are believed to be trapped in detention centres where hostilities are raging.

“These are people in the most vulnerable and dangerous of circumstances. They have fled conflict or persecution in their own countries only to be trapped as conflict engulfs them again,” said the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi.

“The risks to their lives are growing by the hour. They must be urgently brought to safety. Simply put, this is a matter of life or death.”

Detention centres that are in proximity to the fighting include the Ain Zara, Qasr Bin Ghasheer and the Abu Sleim facilities, all located south of Tripoli.

This week, UNHCR has been trying to secure the transfer of vulnerable detained refugees from these centres to safer locations, including to our Gathering and Departure Facility (GDF) in the centre of Tripoli.

To date, only one UNHCR-facilitated relocation of 150 vulnerable refugees from the Ain Zara detention centre to the GDF has been possible.

UNHCR’s efforts to secure additional transfers of vulnerable refugees from other detention centres have been frustrated by access and security challenges.

Fighting is hampering movements while the volatile security situation means it is difficult to access refugees in conflict-affected facilities, as well as to arrange their transportation to safer locations.

As a last resort and a life-saving measure, short of successfully advocating for the release of detainees, UNHCR, in coordination with partners, attempted yesterday to relocate all 728 refugees and migrants detained in the Qasr Bin Ghasheer facility to the Zintan detention centre away from the clashes.

Although the Zintan centre is far from suitable, it is in a safer location and is accessible from Qasr Bin Ghasheer. UNHCR’s medical partner, IMC, also has an on-site clinic to rapidly assist refugees and migrants.

However, refugees and migrants refused the transfer, asking instead to be evacuated out of Libya. Currently, evacuation possibilities from Libya are extremely limited.

We call upon the international community to advocate with all parties to the conflict to respect international legal obligations and to support measures to put an end to detention, while also providing solutions for people trapped in Libya, including humanitarian corridors to evacuate those most vulnerable out of the country.

Current conditions in Libya continue to underscore the fact that Libya is a dangerous place for refugees and migrants, and that those rescued and intercepted at sea should not be returned there. UNHCR has repeatedly called for an end to detention for refugees and migrants.

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