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Anxiety and uncertainty as UN refugee agency halts work at Libya facility

UN refugee agency halts work at Libya facility

Hundreds of migrants and asylum seekers residing at a flagship facility in the Libyan capital faced an uncertain future on Friday after the UN’s refugee agency announced it was suspending work there due to fears over the centre’s safety amid Libya’s escalating conflict.

Several of the 700 residents of the Gathering and Departure Facility (GDF) spoke of their anxiety after UNHCR announced the move on Thursday, saying it fears “the entire area could become a military target, further endangering the lives of refugees, asylum seekers, and other civilians”.

The agency has “started moving dozens of highly vulnerable refugees, who have already been identified for resettlement or evacuation to third countries, from the facility to safer locations”, a UNHCR statement said, adding that it will “facilitate the evacuation of hundreds of other people to urban areas”.

A recording of the announcement made inside the facility on Thursday, and shared with The New Humanitarian, said UNHCR “will remain at the GDF for the next few days to arrange the relocation to urban setting and organise the ordered exit of 100 persons per day”.

Opened in late 2018 after international donors pitched in $6 million, the hope was that the GDF could serve as a well-ordered waystation for people about to leave the war-torn country through resettlement to another country, family reunification, or by other means.

But fighting broke out in April 2019 in and around Tripoli between the UN-backed government and eastern forces led by General Khalifa Haftar, leading to increasing chaos, displacement, and a deadly strike on the Tajoura detention centre, just outside the capital.

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More and more people sought help at the GDF, and by November UNHCR said it could no longer help or protect the people inside. In a controversial move, it began telling people they would not be able to register for refugee status inside the facility, alongside offering money and other aid if they left.

The UN has said it believes Tripoli and other cities – where the majority of the country’s more than 630,000 migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers live – are the best options for people to get help.

But several residents inside the GDF expressed concern: “People are refusing to go out, and don’t know what to do. They stopped giving food yesterday,” said one survivor of the Tajoura airstrike, who spoke to TNH via WhatsApp from inside the GDF on Thursday.

READ ALSO: UN closes migrant centre in Libya over safety fears

“We don’t know what to do. UNHCR told us they will come back on Sunday. But where can we go? We don’t have anywhere to go.”

TNH understands some people have already agreed to leave the centre, but it is not clear what will happen to others if they insist on remaining.

In response to the allegation that food was not being provided, a UNHCR spokesperson said “food services are as normal”. Food has in the past been provided by a catering firm and, in emergency situations, aid agencies.

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An internal UNHCR update from last week, seen by TNH, says the “majority of PoCs [persons of concern] suffer from frustration, anxiety, and stress due to their limited choices and hopelessness in the desired solutions”.

War closes in

The conflict in Tripoli has seen an uptick in fighting in the past month, and on 2 January shells fell close to the GDF.

Since December, the UN-backed government’s Department for Combating Illegal Migration (DCIM), which has an office across the street from the GDF, has been training soldiers just a few metres away from the facility.

In announcing its suspension on Thursday, UNHCR also released a statement noting that “training exercises, involving police and military personnel, are taking place just a few metres away”.

The Libyan Ministry of Interior has jurisdiction over the GDF via the DCIM, and Lt. Abdul Naser Hazam, head of the Tripoli branch of the DCIM, confirmed to TNH that it was training at the location.

“The [DCIM’s] personnel are receiving their training in the field of combating irregular migration, in order to raise their capabilities and develop their skills, especially considering the conditions that Libya is currently experiencing,” he said.

Sources inside the DCIM, UNHCR, and Libaid – the UN’s local partner agency at the centre – all said the plan had been to keep services going at the GDF until at least March, but debates had been ongoing about what to do about the collapsing location, which has for months been effectively controlled by the DCIM and militias associated with it, and had become unsanitary and dangerous.

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According to one UNHCR staff member in Tripoli, who requested to remain anonymous because they were not authorised to speak about the sensitive subject, the facility had increasingly been seen as tarnishing the agency’s reputation. “Some want to shut down the GDF project and end this chapter of wasted resources,” the source said.

According to a report by the UN Support Mission in Libya, submitted 15 January to the Security Council, some 3,200 migrants and refugees are currently held in detention centres run by the DCIM and controlled by armed groups, including an estimated 2,000 people who are “exposed, or in close proximity, to the fighting in and around Tripoli”.

(www.thenewhumanitarian.org)

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Netherlands, IOM launch Global Migration Initiative to protect people on the move

COMPASS will provide vulnerable migrants including victims of trafficking and unaccompanied or separated children access to a broad range of protection and assistance services.

 The International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands launched the Cooperation on Migration and Partnerships for Sustainable Solutions initiative (COMPASS) at the beginning of 2021. COMPASS is a global initiative, in partnership with 12 countries, designed to protect people on the move, combat human trafficking and smuggling, and support dignified return while promoting sustainable reintegration.

The initiative is centred on a whole-of-society approach which, in addition to assisting individuals, will work across all levels – households, communities, and the wider communities – and encompasses the following partner countries: Afghanistan, Chad, Egypt, Ethiopia, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Mali, Morocco, Niger, Nigeria, and Tunisia.

“We want to mobilize families, peers and communities to encourage informed and safe migration decisions, protect migrants, and help those returning home reintegrate successfully,” said Monica Goracci, Director of the Department of Migration Management at IOM.

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“One key component is also undermining the trafficking and smuggling business models through the promotion of safe alternatives and information sharing to reduce the risks of exploitation and abuse by these criminal networks.” Vulnerable migrants, including victims of trafficking and unaccompanied or separated children, will have access to a broad range of protection and assistance services such as mental health and psychosocial support, while migrants in transit who wish to return home will be supported with dignified return and reintegration.

Community level interventions will focus on improving community-led efforts to address trafficking in persons and smuggling of migrants, and support sustainable reintegration of returning migrants. COMPASS will work with national and local governments to enable a conducive environment for migrant protection, migration management and international cooperation on these issues.

“The Ministry of Foreign Affairs is pleased to launch the COMPASS programme in cooperation with IOM, an important and longstanding partner on migration cooperation,” said Marriët Schuurman, Director for Stability and Humanitarian Aid of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands.

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“The programme is a part of the Dutch comprehensive approach to migration with activities that contribute to protection and decreasing irregular migration. Research and data gathering are also important components, and we hope that the insights that will be gained under COMPASS will contribute to broader knowledge sharing on migration and better-informed migration policies.”, added Schuurman. The initiative has a strong learning component, designed to increase knowledge and the uptake of lessons learned, both within the programme and beyond its parameters. COMPASS will actively contribute to global knowledge that supports countries in managing migration flows and protecting vulnerable migrants such as victims of trafficking. The implementation of COMPASS is set to start soon.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands, as the donor to the COMPASS initiative, pledges its active support to partner countries to improve migration cooperation mechanisms within its long-term vision. 

IOM, the leading inter-governmental organization in the field of migration, contributes its expertise as the technical implementation partner to the initiative. IOM works closely with governmental, intergovernmental and non-governmental partners in its dedication to promoting humane and orderly migration for the benefit of all. 

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A child, 40 others drown in shipwreck off Tunisia

Photo: Mediterranean Sea

UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) are deeply saddened by reports of a shipwreck off the coast of Sidi Mansour, in southeast Tunisia, yesterday evening. The bodies of 41 people, including at least one child, have so far been retrieved.

According to reports from local UNHCR and IOM teams, three survivors were rescued by the Tunisian National Coast Guard. The search effort was still underway on Friday. Based on initial information, all those who perished were from Sub-Saharan Africa.

This tragic loss of life underscores once again the need to enhance and expand State-led search and rescue operations across the Central Mediterranean, where some 290 people have lost their lives so far this year. Solidarity across the region and support to national authorities in their efforts to prevent loss of life and prosecute smugglers and traffickers should be a priority.

Prior to yesterday’s incident, 39 refugees and migrants had perished off the coast near the Tunisian city of Sfax in early March. So far this year, sea departures from Tunisia to Europe have more than tripled compared to the same period in 2020.

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UNHCR and IOM continue to monitor developments closely. They continue to stand ready to work with the national authorities to assist and support the survivors, and the family members of those lost.

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Ethiopian migrants return home from Yemen with IOM support in wake of tragic boat sinking

Yemen: Stranded Ethiopian migrants prepare to board an IOM-facilitated flight from Aden, Yemen, to fly home to Addis Ababa. Photo: IOM/Majed Mohammed 2021

One hundred and sixty Ethiopian migrants have returned home safely from Yemen today with the assistance of the International Organization for Migration (IOM), just one day after a perilous journey across the Gulf of Aden claimed the lives of dozens of people, including at least 16 children.

More than 32,000 migrants, predominantly from Ethiopia, remain stranded across Yemen in dire, often deadly, circumstances.

“The conditions of migrants stranded in Yemen has become so tragic that many feel they have no option but to rely on smugglers to return home,” said Jeffrey Labovitz, IOM’s Director for Operations and Emergencies.

At least 42 people returning from Yemen are believed to have died on Monday when their vessel sank off the coast of Djibouti. Last month, at least 20 people had also drowned on the same route according to survivors. IOM believes that, since May 2020, over 11,000 migrants have returned to the Horn of Africa on dangerous boat journeys, aided by unscrupulous smugglers.

READ  No respite for refugees, IDPs as calamities continue to befall camps

“Our Voluntary Humanitarian Return (VHR) programme provides a lifeline for those stranded in a country now experiencing its seventh year of conflict and crisis. We call on all governments along the route to come together and support our efforts to allow migrants safe and dignified opportunities to travel home,” added Labovitz.

COVID-19 has had a major impact on global migration. The route from the Horn of Africa to Gulf countries has been particularly affected. Tens of thousands of migrants, hoping to work in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA), now find themselves unable to complete their journeys, stranded across Djibouti, Somalia and Yemen.

While the pandemic has also caused the number of migrants arriving to Yemen to decrease from 138,000 in 2019 to just over 37,500 in 2020, the risks they face continue to rise. Many of these migrants are stranded in precarious situations, sleeping rough without shelter or access to services. Many others are in detention or being held by smugglers.

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“We cannot find jobs or food here; Yemen is a problem for us,” said Gamal, a 22-year-old migrant returning on the VHR flight. “I used to sleep in the street on cardboard. I could only eat because of the charity people would give me and sometimes we were given leftovers from restaurants. I never had much to eat.”

Since October 2020, in Aden alone, IOM has registered over 6,000 migrants who need support to safely return home. Today’s flight to Addis Ababa was the second transporting an initial group of 1,100 Ethiopians who have been approved for VHR to Ethiopia. Thousands of other undocumented migrants are waiting for their nationality to be verified and travel documents to be provided.

Prior to departure on the VHR flight, IOM carried out medical and protection screenings to ensure that returnees are fit to travel and are voluntarily consenting to return. Those with special needs are identified and receive specialized counselling and support.

In Ethiopia, IOM supports government-run COVID-19 quarantine facilities to accommodate the returnees on arrival and provides cash assistance, essential items and onward transportation to their homes. The Organization also supports family tracing for unaccompanied migrant children.

READ  IOM, African Union Commission, launch the first Africa Migration Report

Across the Horn of Africa and Yemen, IOM provides life-saving support to migrants through health care, food, water and other vital assistance.

Today’s flight was funded by the US State Department’s Bureau for Population, Refugees and Migration (PRM). Post-arrival assistance in Addis Ababa is supported by EU Humanitarian Aid and PRM.

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