A refugee hugs UNHCR staff as they meet at the Gathering and Departure Facility in Tripoli, Libya | Photo: UNHCR/Mohamed Alalem
A refugee hugs UNHCR staff as they meet at the Gathering and Departure Facility in Tripoli, Libya | Photo: UNHCR/Mohamed Alalem

Vincent Cochetel, the UNHCR Special Envoy for the Central Mediterranean, called on European states in Brussels on Wednesday, December 4 to offer more resettlement places for refugees in Libya. So far, only Italy has offered a firm commitment.

More resettlement places are needed, said Vincent Cochetel, UNHCR Special Envoy for the Central Mediterranean. Speaking at the Brussels Press Club, he updated the audience on the situation in Libya and what the UNHCR have been doing to alleviate the situation. According to the German Catholic news agency KNA, Cochetel said that so far only Canada, Rwanda, Niger and Italy had offered to take 2,390 people in need of protection in Libya as part of the UN’s resettlement scheme.

In total, the UNHCR has registered 45,613 refugees and asylum seekers in Libya. A worrying new trend had begun in the last few months too, said Cochetel. Some, desperate to reach Europe, have even been paying human smugglers for a place inside a detention center in the hope that they will have more chances of being resettled by the UNHCR if they are found inside during inspections than outside in the town.

'Paying to enter detention centers'

"For this reason, UNHCR wants to find more places for those needing protection so they can be evacuated from these detention centers,” said Cochetel. At the moment, about 80% of those evacuated from Libya come from the detention camps and 20% from Libyan cities.

Another reason someone might pay to go back inside a detention camp is that the situation outside the camps in Libya has deteriorated in recent months, clarified Cochetel. Some nationalities are particularly under threat, he thinks. Even Libyans are now fleeing Libya. There are now about one million Libyans who have fled over the border to Tunisia, explained Cochetel.

In his speech, Cochetel also criticized the so-called “Malta accord” where several EU states, including Germany, met in Malta to try and find a more stable way of sharing out the migrants who do land in Italy. The UN Special Envoy said, despite this agreement, there was still no connection between the number of boats setting sail from Libya and the numbers actually arriving in Europe. He said this year alone there have been about 15,000 crossing attempts from Libya but over half of the people in those boats have been picked up by the Libyan coast guard and brought back to Libya. Either they are allowed to walk free in Libya or they are taken to a detention center.

The current EU migration policy includes funding and training the Libyan coast guard and authorities in order to control the number of crossings which make it out of the Libyan search and rescue Zone in the Mediterranean.

'We do what we can'

UNHCR estimates that there are about 3,562 people in Libyan detention centers at the moment. So far UNHCR has managed to evacuate 1,410 people from Libya towards Rwanda, Niger and Italy. Italy has also offered more than 1,800 places to vulnerable asylum seekers via a humanitarian corridor scheme.

Cochetel himself often tweets about the situation in Libya and admits that what the UN is able to offer is “not a perfect assistance package.” He therefore calls upon “other actors to do more to fill existing gaps.”

Lately UNHCR was criticized by a number of migrants in Libya and journalists for an alleged policy of reducing access to food in order to ease the overcrowding problem in the Gathering and Departure Facility (GDF) in Tripoli. But, as the UNHCR pointed out in a press release the center had ceased to be able to function because of the overcrowding and was no longer able to do the job of assessing vulnerable people and finding them resettlement places. Cochetel himself pointed out that, although for 18 months the GDF had been “a safe and useful place, it is no longer what it was designed for.”

Resettlement: An important solution

In a second tweet, Cochetel said that UNHCR needed “engagement by all actors,” and called on partners to “provide cash and shelter support. Curiously,” he pointed out, “no one is answering our calls for proposals.”

On December 5, UNHCR Libya tweeted the news that “eight Eritrean teenagers, unaccompanied minors, have left Libya on a journey that will see them resettled in Europe.” The UNHCR said they thanked those countries who had offered places, calling resettlement “an important solution,” but underlined that “more [places are] needed.”


More articles