Published: July 10, 2019
“We opened the gates and let them go,” said one Libyan official to the news agency Reuters. He did not want to be named. On Tuesday, Reuters reported that Libyan officials allowed “at least 100 migrants to walk free” from the Tajoura detention center. Reports on Wednesday said that the Libyan authorities have announced the gradual closure of the camp.
Since the bomb attack at the beginning of July, which saw at least 53 deaths and another 130 people injured, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has been providing assistance to as many of the estimated 600 former detainees as they can. On Tuesday, the UNHCR tweeted that they had “visited Tajoura and provided food, water and medical assistance.”
However, they acknowledge that evacuations from Libya remain “limited” and that they are aiming to relocate the most vulnerable to a Gathering and Departure Facility (GDF) in Libya as soon as possible. Meanwhile, they continue to push for the release of all remaining detainees.
Reuters on Tuesday reported that at least 110 had chosen to remain and were sleeping in the open air on mattresses because they feared going back inside the hangar incase of any further air strikes.
The UNHCR has made several visits to the center since the bombing occurred. In a statement which they posted on Twitter, they said they “welcomed the decision [by the Libyan authorities] to give the remaining detainees [who hadn’t already been put on a UNHCR list] the choice to freely leave the detention center.” Their statement continued saying that the “55 most vulnerable refugees, which include women, children, families and unaccompanied minors,” had already been moved to a GDF in Tripoli “pending evacuation to a third country.”
Those who have not been taken to the GDF are being offered support from various international bodies including the UNHCR, the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the World Food Program (WFP), United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and partners “through a UNHCR Community Day Center (CDC).”
An initial attempt to evacuate the most vulnerable refugees from the detention center had been blocked, said the UNHCR, by another group of refugees in the center who “demanded that everyone in Tajoura should be evacuated to a third country.”
'Release all in detention centers'
On July 3, the UNHCR Chief of Mission in Libya, Jean-Paul Cavilieri spoke in a UN video directly after the bombing.
Apart from condemning the attack itself, he reiterated the UN’s call for a release of all those in detention centers in Libya saying that “refugees and migrants should not be detained in the first place. [And] civilians should never be targeted.” Cavilieri also said that the UNHCR did not agree with any refugees or migrants being returned to Libya at this time when rescued at sea because it is “not a safe port for disembarkation.” He also repeated the call for the international community to set up humanitarian corridors “to make sure that all refugees who are in danger can be [brought] to safety abroad.”
For those that are left, there are not many options pointed out Flavio Di Giacomo, a spokesperson from the IOM in the Mediterranean region. On July 9 he tweeted:
Just a few days before Di Giacomo also tweeted that almost as many migrants were being sent back to Libya as had managed to arrive in Italy or Malta so far this year.
In order to improve the situation on the ground, the UNHCR has been concentrating on what they call “Quick Impact Projects” (QUIPs). They currently have 14 QIPs in operation on the ground, providing to basic needs like water, sanitation and food. In cities like Tripoli, the UNHCR has set up community development centers. The organization implements outreach visits and telephone hotlines to identify and register people in need. When given access, the UNHCR also visits detention centers. source