Migrants in a Libyan hospital after an airstrike that hit a detention center near the capital Tripoli on July 2, 2019 | Photo: ANSA/Zuhair Abusrewil
Migrants in a Libyan hospital after an airstrike that hit a detention center near the capital Tripoli on July 2, 2019 | Photo: ANSA/Zuhair Abusrewil

Doctors Without Borders (MSF) has warned in a statement that the response to the COVID-19 pandemic has laid "bare failed politics of aid to help migrants stranded in Libya" and worsened conditions for them.

The "pandemic -- or the response to it, rather -- has made the daily struggles of Libyan civilians worse and exacerbated the misery of migrants stranded in the country," Sacha Petiot, MSF Head of Mission in Libya wrote in a statement.

"For some 1,500 people currently held in the detention centers nominally under the authority of the Libyan agency fighting illegal migration (DCIM), despair is reaching a new high," Petiot said in the statement, published on June 8.

Restrictions destroying their hopes

"The halt of UNHCR evacuation flights and IOM repatriation services in the wake of COVID-19 related travel restrictions extinguish their only hope to find a way out of a cycle of abuses and violence in Libya,'' Petiot said.

While he said that now more than ever is not a time to abandon those trapped in Libyan detention centers, he also stressed that "most migrants and refugees in Libya" are not held in Libyan DCIM (Directorate for Combatting Illegal Migration) detention centers.

"The vast majority of them, including those released or who made their way out from detention centers in recent months, live in the main Libyan cities," he said.

"They are exposed to threats of arbitrary arrest and detention, robbery, kidnapping, abuses and worse. While the early setup of preventive measures such as curfews, lockdowns and closure of borders have likely contributed in containing the spread of COVID-19 in Libya, it has further disrupted an already fragile economy," Petiot said.

'Situation requires radical change'

MSF humanitarian advocacy and protection manager Elsa Laino said that a migrant boat wreck in recent days had drawn attention to the fact that "an escape via sea still seems the only solution for those trapped in Libya."

She added that the military escalation had worsened living conditions for migrants and refugees, who are exposed to threats of arrest and arbitrary detention, kidnapping, robbery and abuse.

Laino also stressed that the protection of migrants and refugees trapped in Libya should become an international priority and that the reaction to COVID-19 must not become worse than the virus itself.

 

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