The UN Refugee Agency announced it will suspend its operational work at the Gathering and Departure Facility (GDF) for refugees and asylum seekers in Tripoli, Libya, amid fears “for the safety and protection of people at the facility.”
The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) cited the "worsening conflict in Tripoli, Libya" as the main reason that it had been left with "no choice but to suspend work at the GDF in Tripoli," read a statement from the UNHCR on Thursday, January 30.
This is not the first time the UNHCR has expressed concerns about the safety of those contained within the GDF. On January 2, three mortar shells fell close to the GDF "and fragments landed near a warehouse inside the complex," read the UNHCR statement. "Fortunately, [on that occasion] there were no casualties."
Fears of danger
Jean-Paul Cavalieri, the organization's Chief of Mission in Libya explained that the UNHCR had learnt "that training exercises, involving police and military personnel, are taking place just a few meters away from units housing asylum seekers and refugees." He added, "we fear that the entire area could become a military target, further endangering the lives of refugees, asylum seekers and other civilians."
In the latter months of 2019 the UNHCR had repeatedly announced that the GDF was becoming too crowded to carry out its work (that of moving those identified as highly vulnerable out of Libya on resettlement programs). In fact, the UNHCR stated that "close to 900 individuals had entered the GDF spontaneously since July." As a result they said, the GDF became "severely overcrowded and is no longer functioning as a transit center."One of UNHCR's representatives in Libya, Caroline Gluck recorded a short video, posted to Twitter on January 27 showing people around the GDF in Libya.
She highlighted some of the messages written on the wall by refugees who have since been relocated. She also outlined the services on offer, health center and accommodation.
How many people have left Libya?
In 2019, Gluck said, just over 2,400 people were able to take advantage of the UNHCR’s relocation program and depart Libya. A total of 5,506 people have departed Libya via relocation since 2017.
In January 2020, UNHCR data shows that there are 46,913 registered refugees and asylum seekers in Libya, 837,481 people of concern and around 343,180 internally displaced persons.UNHCR is continuing the process of registering those in detention centers and camps but as the UNHCR Special Envoy for the Central Mediterranean, Vincent Cochetel pointed out, that registration "does not bring much protection in Libya today except against refoulement, but it remains an important activity."
The organization then opened up various day centers in Tripoli in the hope of moving some of those who had taken up residence in the GDF, but who would not be eligible for relocation, to other parts of the city. However, the numbers waiting at the GDF continued to exceed capacity.
Work continues in other centers
Now, the UNHCR has promised to move "dozens of highly vulnerable refugees, who have already been identified for resettlement or evacuation to third countries, from the facility to safer locations." The organization said that they would also "facilitate the evacuation of hundreds of other people to urban areas;" including 400 asylum seekers who left the Tajoura detention center after it was hit by air strikes last July, "as well as some 300 asylum seekers from the Abu Salim detention center who entered the GDF last November after being spontaneously released from detention by the authorities."
The UNHCR repeated its promise of providing all those moved out of the GDF "cash assistance, relief items and medical assistance at UNHCR’s Community Day Center in Tripoli."In fact, on January 29, UNHCR Libya tweeted that "75 asylum seekers were assisted by our teams this week in relocating from the Gathering and Departure Facility to urban areas." The cash assistance offered, added the UNHCR tweet, will initially be for two months.
The UNHCR has been operating the GDF under the jurisdiction of the Libyan Ministry of Interior. Alongside UNHCR partner LibAid it has been operating at the GDF since December 2018.
Cavalieri confirmed that they would continue their other work in Libya "at full pace" and also told journalists that he hoped UNHCR would "be able to resume our work at the GDF once safe to do so."