On November 6, over 200 refugees, including pregnant women and about 30 children, mainly of Sudanese origin, were arrested near the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) building in Tripoli and forcibly transferred to Libyan detention centres.
What happened to this group of refugees is not an isolated case. It highlights the recurring problem of mass arrests of displaced people camping outside the UN premises as they wait for their appointment with the UNHCR. It also underscores the lack of adequate response to address the needs of highly vulnerable populations fleeing Sudan.
Despite warnings from Libyan civil society organisations, the UN has been unable to protect Sudanese refugees from violence by the armed forces and militias, especially while refugees are waiting for months in camps to be registered by the HCR personnel.
People are dying and all they get is painkillers!
“Nobody chooses to live on the streets in such conditions! Nobody! People are sick or dying, and all they get from the UNHCR is painkillers, painkillers! Many of these people have died before they even got through the UNHCR’s gates!”, laments a Sudanese refugee we interviewed.
The harsh conditions in Libyan detention centres, combined with limited international presence, have been widely documented. Organisations, including our own and the UN fact-finding mission on Libya, report widespread human rights violations against migrants, including detained refugees and asylum seekers, from torture and rape to forced labour and human trafficking.
In the face of these pressing challenges, we urge UNHCR to prioritise immediate assistance and relief, speed up registration processes, reassess financial support to refugees, and strengthen collaboration with civil society groups and other UN agencies such as UNICEF to protect pregnant women and children. Diplomatic pressure on the Libyan authorities is also crucial to ensure that refugees are treated respectfully.