UN agencies have denounced the dangers faced by migrants and asylum seekers in Libya, calling for an end to their detention.
The UN agencies also advised those intercepting or rescuing migrants and asylum seekers at sea against returning them to a country where they face “squalid conditions”.
The Chief of Mission of the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) in Libya, Mr Roberto Mignone said: “Refugees in Libya are faced with a nightmarish scenario.
“They have fled their homes in search of safety and protection only to end up incarcerated, languishing indefinitely in squalid conditions.”
According to the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), large numbers of refugees and migrants continue to attempt the dangerous crossing of the Mediterranean Sea from Libya to Europe.
The UN migration agency added that many of them were being intercepted by the Libyan Coast Guard, brought back to shore, and placed in detention upon arrival.
These interceptions or “rescue operations”, have led to the placement of large numbers migrants in official detention centres, nearly doubling between 2017 and 2018, from 5,500 to 9,300, IOM said.
Mignone stressed that “it is reprehensible that they are detained instead of protected.
“This is despite the fact that viable alternatives to detention within Libya can be found, including through a Gathering and Departure Facility that we have been waiting to open since July, which could offer immediate protection and safety for those most vulnerable”.
When opened, the facility proposed by UNHCR would be the first of its kind in the country, sheltering vulnerable asylum seekers until a solution could be found to get them out of Libya.
While the facility has been built and is ready for use, the UN agency said it was facing delays from the Libyan authorities and continued to advocate for it to be opened.
In the meantime, in light of the dangers for refugees and migrants in Libya, UNHCR said it did not consider it to be a safe place for disembarkation and had advised against returns to Libya following search and rescues at sea.
In addition, IOM and UNHCR have been working to evacuate these migrants from Libya to other countries.
In the past year, UNHCR has evacuated almost 2,500 vulnerable refugees and asylum seekers – including over 300 unaccompanied children held in detention in Libya, Niger, Italy and Romania, where they are hosted in UNHCR transit centres while longer term solutions in third countries are being sought for them.
Simultaneously, in 2018, IOM said it had safely returned more than 11,000 of the most vulnerable to their countries of origin.
However, the agency reported in August that its voluntary repatriation programme in Libya was unable to keep pace with the alarmingly high number of migrants in Government detention centers wishing to go home.
Given the difficult circumstances facing refugees and asylum seekers trapped in Libya, the UN has continued to advocate for alternatives to detention and for more support for evacuations, which remain a crucial lifeline for the most vulnerable.
As many refugees remain in Libya and in need of urgent evacuation, UNHCR urged more countries to come forward with additional possibilities of places for their safe resettlement.