African migrants sit in a detention center in the al-Karem district in Misrata eastern of Tripoli, Libya | Photo: EPA/STR
African migrants sit in a detention center in the al-Karem district in Misrata eastern of Tripoli, Libya | Photo: EPA/STR

According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), more than 200,000 people have been displaced in the past 12 months. The coronavirus pandemic appears to further complicate the situation in the war-torn country.

Since domestic strife returned to Libya in April 2019, more than 200,000 people have suffered internal displacement. About two thirds of the displacements were recorded in the Libyan capital, Tripoli — with other affected areas including the conflict-stricken areas of Murzuq, Sirt and Abu Gurayn. The displaced include Libyan families as well as migrants.

Migrants in Libya have often come under crossfire, suffering injuries and deaths during shelling close to detention centers, where they are being kept under difficult living conditions.

At least 1,500 people are assumed to currently be in such detention facilities in Libya, while thousands of others remain in the hands of smugglers and traffickers in even worse conditions where they have been used as slaves or tortured in order to extort money from relatives.

Read more: Libyan humanitarian crisis worsening

Migrants are often held in crammed conditions that have been likened to prisons | Photo: picture-alliance

Attacks on health facilities

The IOM highlighted that hostilities between rivalling groups were observed as recently as earlier this week in Tripoli, where one of the few remaining health facilities in the city was hit as part of the ongoing attacks. The Al Khadra hospital, where Libya's COVID-19 patients are being treated, sustained significant damage.

While the number of COVID-19 patients remains low in Libya, according to official statistics, the resources to treat potential patients are scarce. Most of the vulnerable people in Libya, including migrants in particular, live in overcrowded accommodations such as detention centers, where they have limited access to health services, placing them at particularly high risk to suffer the disease if it were to spread further. Some health facilities like those offered by the UNHCR have had to be closed temporarily as well during the ongoing crisis.

IOM and Doctors Without Borders (MSF) demand that with the ongoing pandemic situation, attacks on health facilities must stop in the country. Since April 2019, the civil war in Libya has resulted in widespread damage to various health facilities and other infrastructure especially in the capital.

Front lines in Libya's civil war | Credit: DW

Situation has 'never been worse'

The IOM says it has been conducting regular disinfection in detention centers and providing hygiene items to detained migrants, with its mobile clinic program sometimes being the only facility to provide emergency and primary health care services and screen for COVID-19 symptoms.

But the security situation in Libya is also making it more difficult for aid workers to reach vulnerable populations, according to the IOM. The prospect of a potential spread of the novel coronavirus virus, especially in migrant detention centers, is further complicating matters.

"A year into the conflict, the humanitarian situation in Libya has never been worse," IOM Libya Chief of Mission Federico Soda said.

"The needs have never been greater and the conditions have never been more challenging. Despite calls for a humanitarian ceasefire, the fighting continues amid serious fears of a COVID-19 outbreak."

Libya recorded its first confirmed case of COVID-19 on March 24, 2020. Twenty people have so far tested positive for the disease. The IOM says it wants to encourage authorities in Libya once more to allow humanitarian workers access, especially amid the fast-spreading global pandemic, while reiterating that all civilian lives must be protected and safe passage provided to those fleeing conflict.

With IOM, epd


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