Libya: Refugees and asylum seekers detained after closure of UNHCR centre in Tripoli

On January 10, a UNHCR centre in Tripoli, Libya closed due to an accumulation of refugees and asylum seekers outside its doors.
On January 10, a UNHCR centre in Tripoli, Libya closed due to an accumulation of refugees and asylum seekers outside its doors. © Observers

Since a wave of arrests targeting migrants in October 2021, hundreds of people began camping outside a UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) centre in Tripoli, Libya. This came to an end on January 10 when the centre closed, deemed inoperable by UNHCR due to the accumulation of refugees and asylum seekers outside its doors. That same day, Libyan police carried out an operation to expel the people camped out there, detaining hundreds of them in a detention centre, where they've remained for weeks.

Advertising

Mistrust has continued to grow between migrants and Libyan security forces since hundreds of them were violently evicted from their homes in October 2021 and some placed in detention centres. The situation worsened after the UNHCR centre closed on January 10, 2022. The police then intervened brutally, as our Observer, David Yambio, a South Sudanese migrant, tells us:  

When the police and the vehicles arrived, it brought about tensions. People were afraid. They blocked access to the street in and out. They blocked passage for even Libyan citizens. There were no cars moving, only military vehicles. 

Tensions rose and the [Libyan] armed guards were shooting in the air and firing at people, tearing apart tents. They started to kick people and hit them with their guns. 

These people were attacked, they were rounded up, they were beaten. They were forcibly packed in these buses and then taken to different locations. Some were taken to detention centres.

At least 600 people were taken to the Ain Zara detention centre, south of Tripoli. Some of those detained had “stab wounds, beating marks, and [were] separated from children”, Doctors Without Borders told the Middle East Eye

Most refugees are now detained in Ain Zara. They don’t have access to toilets. They are not given clean drinking water. They don’t have enough food to eat. They don’t have blankets and mattresses to sleep on. These are kinds of torture: human rights violations. We cannot describe it, it’s something unimaginable.  

The press office of UNHCR contacted our editorial team to specify that "distribution of cash aid, food assistance, hygiene kits, and counselling was never interrupted despite suspension of activities at the CDC, and was undertaken in different distribution points in Tripoli, including to vulnerable persons gathering outside the CDC".