Debris from the Tajoura detention center airstrike on July 3, 2019 | Photo: Hazem Turkia/picture-alliance
Debris from the Tajoura detention center airstrike on July 3, 2019 | Photo: Hazem Turkia/picture-alliance

On January 10 a statement from UNHCR Libya confirmed that the UN Refugee Agency was "deeply saddened by the deaths of two Eritrean asylum seekers in Tripoli, Libya." The men are believed to have been shot inside their accommodation.

Not many details have been released about the circumstances of the two men’s deaths. However, in the short UNHCR statement which was posted on the UNHCR Libya Twitter account, the organization confirms that it is believed that the two men were "shot inside their accommodation in Tripoli on Thursday, January 9."

UNHCR continues that "their heartfelt condolences go out to their families and friends." It is believed, writes the UNHCR, that the two men were "among the 4,000 asylum seekers and refugees who have been registered by UNHCR" and were living "in urban areas in Libya."

Deaths a 'terrible reminder of worsening security situation'

The agency says that "these two deaths are a terrible reminder of the worsening security situation in Libya since April, which has left many civilians killed or injured." The agency took the opportunity to underline that shelling has also occurred "near the Gathering and Departure Facility in Tripoli," which shows, they say "that there is no safe place for refugees and asylum seekers in Tripoli right now."

According to reports by the news agency AP, it is believed that the two men had originally been resident in the Gathering and Departure facility in Tripoli and had been "forced out … at the beginning of January." This information, wrote AP came from three refugees who spoke on condition of anonymity "for fear of retribution."

Many Eritreans leave their country to seek asylum in Europe. A large proportion of them travel through Libya before hoping to board a boat across the Mediterranean.

More Eritreans flee per head of population than almost any other country in the world | Photo: Picture-alliance/dpa/ H. W. Bowman

Overcrowding in GDF

Towards the end of 2019, UNHCR made numerous appeals to refugees living in, and trying to obtain access to, the Gathering and Departure Facility because of increasing overcrowding. UNHCR offered money to migrants and asylum seekers to leave the facility and register at one of their day centers in Tripoli. The agency said that the Gathering and Departure Facility, which was set up for vulnerable refugees eligible for relocation, could no longer function with so many people whose status had not yet been established, hoping for refuge there.

AP reports that the two men were among those migrants and asylum seekers who had accepted the UNHCR payments and left to live in town. AP and various other journalists have conducted investigations into the situation in Libya where they have exposed corruption and the continued abuse of migrants, even in nominally UN-run centers. The UN itself, said AP, "has said the situation in Libya is highly complex, and it has to work with whoever runs the detention centers to preserve access to vulnerable migrants."

Corruption and instability

Millions of euros in EU money has been directed to Libya, to strengthen the coast guard and provide support to ease the situation of so many detained migrants in the country. However, AP and other news organizations allege that much of this money is being "diverted to intertwined networks of militiamen, traffickers and coast guard members who exploit migrants." An AP investigation found that the EU has "sent more than €327,9 million to Libya, with an additional €41 million approved in early December." Much of that money, they wrote on January 31, 2019 had been "channeled through U.N agencies."Libyan coast guard vessel returning migrants to Tripoli in 2017|  Photo: picture alliance/M. Ben Khalifa

Fresh clashes broke out in April between the internationally recognized government in Tripoli and forces commanded by a rival general in the east of the country. The violence and shelling has made the situation for migrants, asylum seekers and refugees in the country even more unstable and dangerous.


On January 11, 2020 it was reported that forces commanded by General Khalifa Haftar would support a ceasefire to be brokered by Russia and Turkey. Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte tweeted the news saying that "there was still a lot of distance to cover towards a political solution but that the decision was 'going in the right direction'."

According to the prime minister’s office, Conte is now taking part in talks in Ankara (on Monday, January 13) and Cairo (Tuesday, January 14) regarding the situation in Libya.

UN response

At the beginning of January, the UN published a summary of its response in Libya over the course of 2019. It noted that there were 836,963 people of concern in the country and that the agency had registered 46,395 refugees and asylum seekers.Refugees released from detention arrive at the Gathering and Departure Facility in Tripoli, Libya | Photo: UNHCR/Farah Harwida

UNHCR said that over the course of 2019, just 1,696 refugees had departed Libya via the Gathering and Departure Facility and a total of 2,427 overall. It concluded that its agency had required $88.1 million of funding in 2019, of which only 67% was actually forthcoming. It said that 1,778 families had received cash and 1,780 people had been released from detention centers in the country. At the end of 2019, in an acknowledgment of the huge, as yet unmet needs, of migrants in Libya, the UN's Special Envoy Vincent Cochetel called for the international community to offer more resettlement places for refugees and asylum seekers in 2020. They reiterated that call at the end of the statement confirming the two Eritrean men's deaths.


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