Men from Ethiopia, Sudan and Chad sit near the Libyan border prior to being arrested by RSF forces | Photo: Reuters
Men from Ethiopia, Sudan and Chad sit near the Libyan border prior to being arrested by RSF forces | Photo: Reuters

Libya has illegally expelled at least 1,400 migrants and refugees this year, the UN human rights office says. The forced returns during the COVID-19 pandemic put migrants at risk of human rights violations and should be stopped, it says.

The United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, OHCHR, says it is "concerned" about the expulsions of hundreds of people this year from eastern Libya.

"The number that I have ... from the start of the year (is) 1,400 migrants and refugees," Jeremy Laurence, a spokesperson for the OHCHR, told a virtual briefing in Geneva.

"Such practices violate Libya's international human rights obligations prohibiting refoulement (returning migrants to a country where they may face persecution) and collective expulsion," he added.

Most of those expelled from Libya were sent to Sudan, Niger, Chad and Somalia, according to the OHCHR.

The Libyan government said this month it had "evacuated" 160 Sudanese migrants. According to OCHCR monitors, the migrants were deported without access to asylum or other protection needs, legal assistance or other safeguards.

COVID-19 measures must not curb migrants' rights

The OHCHR warns that the human rights of migrants must continue to be protected despite measures aimed at containing the spread of coronavirus, such as border controls. The office has also recommended that countries suspend forced returns during the COVID-19 pandemic.

"All return decisions and procedures should be re-evaluated to ensure they are compatible with migrants' right to health as well as broader public health strategies," a briefing note from OCHCR said.

Risks of rights abuses in detention

The UN rights office also has serious concerns for the welfare of thousands of migrants being held in crowded and unhygienic official detention facilities and unofficial sites across Libya. These migrants are "at risk of serious human rights violations and abuses, amid the spread of COVID-19," it says.

"The detained migrants lack access to information, prevention, and health services," the OHCHR says. In the context of the coronavirus pandemic, the United Nations has called for the urgent prioritization of release from immigration detention to safe places.

Many of the facilities where migrants are detained are located in areas close to ongoing fighting, the OHCHR also points out. It has urged the parties to the conflict to comply with a ceasefire announced by the UN Secretary-General, to allow for the delivery of aid to places that are vulnerable because of the COVID-19 pandemic.


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