The crew of the Doctors Without Borders rescue vessel Ocean Viking rescuing a group of migrants in the Mediterranean off the coast of Libya | Photo: EPA/H. Wallace Bowman
The crew of the Doctors Without Borders rescue vessel Ocean Viking rescuing a group of migrants in the Mediterranean off the coast of Libya | Photo: EPA/H. Wallace Bowman

The UN refugee agency says COVID-19 and curfew conditions in Libya have reduced the possibilities for people to find ways to survive, prompting an increase in migrant departures from Libya towards Europe.

The UN Refugee Agency UNHCR, in a hearing before the European Parliament, said there are currently 650,000 foreigners in Libya, of whom more than 48,000 are asylum seekers registered by the UN. In addition, there are more than 370,000 internally displaced Libyans, and 450,000 people have recently returned to their homeland.

The UNHCR estimated an "increase in departures from the country due to COVID-19 and the curfew, which reduce the possibility" for people to find a way to survive.

'Detention centers can no longer host'

Sophie Magennis of UNHCR said that since April 24, "more than 3,000 migrants have registered, saying that they were rescued at sea by the Libyan coast guard and brought back to Libya." She said more than 800 of the people rescued were refugees from Sudan, Eritrea, Somalia, Ethiopia, South Sudan, and Pakistan.

Meanwhile, Magennis said that detention centers can no longer take people in and that there has been a reduction in recognized facilities, "from 5,000 people in January 2019 to 1,500 in March 2020, among whom 900 asylum seekers". She said the situation in the other 11 centers, on the other hand, is still "terrifying".

Frontex says many potential migrants still in Libya

The executive director of EU border agency Frontex, Fabrice Leggeri, spoke on Monday in the European Parliament and said there are still many potential migrants in Libya. He said COVID-19 and the prolonged conflict in Libya are making it difficult for people to find means of sustenance, while at the same time the Libyan coast guard is having more difficulty identifying departures.

Leggeri said there were 2,800 arrivals from the Central Mediterranean route between January 1 and April 5, with an increase of more than 400% over the 700 arrivals in the same period last year. He said a reduction was observed "from March to April" but during the Easter period "there was an exception."

Leggeri said Frontex planes detected four boats with 250 people on board. "We saw them while they were leaving Libyan coasts, and while they were still in Libyan waters we informed all maritime centers, on both sides of the Mediterranean, for search and rescue operations."

 

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