Tripoli security operations lead to mass arrest of migrants and refugees
Actions against migrants and refugees in urban settings have risen over the past few months, starting in June 2021 when local municipality leaders in Zwara and Hai Alandalus issued decrees requiring migrants and refugees to register and secure valid documents, or face eviction or arrest. At the same time, an increasing number of discriminatory and xenophobic attacks against migrants and refugees, who are often blamed for criminality, further contributed to creating a hostile environment for migrants and refugees.
On 1 October, widespread security operations, marked by concerns over excessive use of force, carried out by Libyan authorities resulted in more than 5,150 migrants and refugees being affected, including at least 1,000 women and children, with families separated and children reported missing. Operations began in Hai Alandalus municipality and included raids on houses and temporary accommodations used by migrants and refugees, specifically affecting those living in Gargaresh. One migrant was killed, and scores others injured as raids continued in Abu Salim, Janzour, and Souq Al Jumaa. Most of the migrants and refugees detained during the security operation were transferred to detention centers (DC) managed by DCIM, thereby doubling the detainee population in already severely overcrowded facilities, to more than 10,000 individuals.
Deteriorating conditions and rising tensions in the Mabani DC lead to a mass escape on 8 October that Libyan authorities responded to with force, with five people shot and several injured. Migrants and refugees who managed to escape were re-arrested and returned to the DC. However, in the following days, large groups of refugees and migrants, up to 3,000 persons, began to regularly congregate in front of the Community Day Center (CDC) managed by partners with funding from UNHCR in Janzour municipality. With increasing crowds at the CDC, including violent elements preventing some of most vulnerable asylum-seekers and refugees from accessing services, activities at the CDC were suspended. Although distribution of emergency cash assistance is ongoing in alternative locations, many migrants continue to remain in hiding following the security operations. The lack of an adequate legal framework and legislation concerning the status and treatment of refugees and asylum-seekers in Libya results in refugees being considered as “illegal migrants” and subject to indefinite detention. Libyan authorities’ restrictions on access by humanitarian partners to detained migrants and refugees remains a serious concern, due to the high risk of human rights violations and impeded delivery of urgently needed life-saving assistance. Asylum seekers, refugees and migrants are unable to access assistance and protection services, which can force the most vulnerable to adopt hazardous coping mechanisms or opt for irregular and dangerous departures from Libya, subsequently exposing them to the risk of trafficking. The Libyan government lifted the suspension of humanitarian flights in early October, and as such, UNHCR have resumed the evacuation and resettlement of refugees from Libya, while IOM’s Voluntary Humanitarian Return programme resuming on 21 October. However, the capacity of such flights is minor in comparison to the overall refugee and migrant populations.
In this context, many refugees and migrants continue to risk their lives attempting to cross the Mediterranean Sea, with more than 31,000 intercepted by the Libyan Coast Guard between January and December 2021, almost three times the total number of people returned in all of 2020 (12,000 people).