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.
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.
“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.
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.
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”.
IOM launches open South America portal
Buenos Aires – IOM, the International Organization for Migration, this week launched the Open South America Portal, a web platform providing migrants and stakeholders in the region with access to reliable and timely information on human mobility restrictions and health and safety measures adopted by governments in the COVID-19 pandemic.
Open South America, available in Spanish, English and Portuguese, shares official information by country on the latest measures, including border restrictions, quarantine requirements and COVID-19 tests for migrants and travellers.
The portal also provides updated information on authorized entry points and key places for travellers and migrants, such as consulates, migrant care and health centres, airports, border crossings points and ports. This information can be explored through an interactive map.
The platform, funded by the IOM Development Fund, is also accessible to vulnerable migrants who may be stranded or are at risk of receiving misinformation on migration.
Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, South America has been one of the most impacted regions worldwide. According to the World Health Organization figures, as of 8 July 2021 there were 33,475,765 COVID-19 cumulative cases in the region, which represents 89 per cent of the total cases in Latin America, and 18 per cent of all infections recorded globally.
Countries such as Brazil, Peru, Colombia and Ecuador all experienced severe outbreaks. For example, Brazil currently reports the third highest number of cumulative cases (18,855,015) and second highest death toll (526,892) globally.
“Open South America will facilitate orderly, regular and responsible migration in South America amid the uncertain times of COVID-19 and after the pandemic,” said Minister Ana Laura Cachaza, General Director of Consular Affairs of the Government of Argentina.
“Migrants’ access to up-to-date information through innovative online tools is essential considering the changing migration dynamic in the region due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Marcelo Pisani, IOM Regional Director for South America.
29,000 Nigerians, Ghanaians, Somalians, other Africans migrated through the Mediterranean Sea to Europe in 2021 —IOM
The International Organisation for Migration has said that 29,000 individuals including Nigerians, Ghanaians, Somalians and other Africans have emigrated to Europe through the Mediterranean Sea this year.
About 13,000 were arrested by the coast guards and returned home while 761 migrants were said to have perished in the sea.
Disclosing this to journalists in Abuja on Friday, the Chief of Mission, IOM Nigeria, Mr Franz Celestin, said less than five per cent of migrants usually made it to Europe, adding that the vast majority stay in Africa.
He further said that a lot of migrants were trafficked within the Economic Community of West African States, adding that Mali was the number one destination point for trafficked Nigerian women.
Responding to questions on the number of people who have undertaken the perilous trip to Europe through the Mediterranean, the IOM Chief said, “A combination of unemployment and underemployment is pushing people to migrate.
“In this year, 29,000 migrants from Sub-Sahara Africa have migrated to Europe through the Mediterranean. About 13,000 were intercepted by the coastguard while 761 died.”
Celestin stressed the importance of tackling human trafficking which he said grossed about $150 billion annually.
“Traffickers make a lot of money and they would continue to do it until a coordinated response is evolved to stop them. We are collaborating with Interpol in this respect; we are connected to the Interpol i/247 database. We connected the MIDAS to the Interpol database where we pass the information on traffickers to the Interpol,” he stated.
Celestin explained that the IOM has been involved in the biometric registration of children in the North-East, noting that the agency has registered no fewer than 17,053 children in 18 different internally displaced person camps between 2019 and May 2021 in Borno State.
The agency chief also disclosed that IOM was involved in the G7 Famine Prevention and Humanitarian Compact for North-East.
FG condemns killing of Nigerian footballer in UK
The Federal government has condemned the alleged killing of a Nigerian Footballer, Kelvin Igweani, by the UK police.
Recall that Igweani, a Nigerian Footballer, was shot dead by officers, who attended a call out to a house, where a child was found with serious injuries.
Reacting, Hon. Abike Dabiri-Erewa, Chairman/CEO, Nigerians in Diaspora Commission (NIDCOM), in Abuja on Wednesday described the incident as very unfortunate,and sad.
Dabiri-Erewa condoled with the family of the deceased and the Nigerian communities in the UK while praying that God grants rest to the soul of the departed.
“We call on the UK government for a thorough and proper investigation to be carried out on the incident,” the statement added.
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