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UNHCR concerned over continued forcible return of potential refugees from Libya

Briefing notes

UNHCR concerned over continued forcible return of potential refugees from Libya

21 September 2004

Some of you have called for comment regarding recent media and other reports about forcible returns from Libya. UNHCR is concerned over the ongoing forcible return of potential refugees from Libya. A recent incident involving a group of Eritrean nationals who arrived in Sudan from Libya aboard a hijacked plane last month reveals the seriousness of the situation, and the vulnerability of refugees and asylum seekers in Libya. It also raises concerns over the intentions of the Libyan government to ensure minimum standards of treatment for persons who might be in need of international protection.

UNHCR conducted interviews with 60 of the Eritrean passengers after their arrival in Khartoum on 27 August. The group said that they had been detained without charges for a prolonged period of time in the Libyan town of Kufra, and had endured repeated physical abuse. They also said that, despite their request to see UNHCR, they had not been given access to any asylum procedure. Additionally, the group was never informed of the decision to deport them to Eritrea, were forced to board a special charter flight, and only found out after their plane took off that the destination was their country of origin. Sixty of the seventy-five passengers have since been granted refugee status in Sudan.

UNHCR wishes to remind the Libyan government of its obligations under the 1969 OAU Convention related to the specific aspects of refugees in Africa, which Tripoli has signed and ratified. UNHCR also requests unhindered access for UNHCR to those groups in detention in order to be able to identify persons in need of international protection.

Libya is not party to the 1951 Refugee Convention, and has not signed a cooperation agreement for a formal UNHCR presence in the country. Even so, Libya figures among the first African states to have signed the OAU Convention, and adopted so far a generous open-door policy towards Africans and Arab nationals. The deportation of potential refugees from Eritrea on 27 August constitutes a severe violation of the OAU Convention and clearly goes against the norms of international protection and the principle of non-refoulement

UNHCR is aware of the challenges faced by the Libyan authorities in dealing with mixed flows of irregular immigrants and asylum seekers, and is appreciative of the government's efforts to address some of these issues in consultation with its office in Tripoli. UNHCR reiterates its calls to the relevant authorities to undertake all necessary measures to ensure that no further deportations of potential asylum seekers occur, and that UNHCR is given unhindered access to those individuals who wish to launch asylum applications in Libya.