The UNHCR Community Day Center in Tripoli has closed its doors, leaving many stranded without humanitarian assitance. Aid organizations have raised concerns as migrants, refugees and asylum seekers camped outside the center have been met with violence and unlawful arrests.
The Community Day Center (CDC) in Tripoli has closed its doors permanently, a little over a month after the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) announced the closure on December 2. The center used to provide humanitarian assistance to refugees and asylum seekers before it was shut down. Even now, between 1,000 and 1,500 people are still calling for help on the sidewalk, near the structure.
"The decision to close the CDC at the end of 2021 was very difficult to make, as it was a 'one-stop-shop' offering help, along with its partner organizations, to around 150 people per day in one place," says Caroline Gluck, spokesperson for the UN agency in Libya, who was contacted by InfoMigrants.
However, Gluck described the decision to close as "essential", after a two month blockade. "Alternative solutions were urgently needed so that we could continue to help those who need our support and assistance."
Since the beginning of October, around a thousand migrants have been camped in front of the CDC. They gathered around the entrance of the center after heavy raids by the country's authorities in the popular Gargaresh district of Tripoli. Officially, the raids were staged as part of a major security operation, which resulted in the destruction of several homes and the deaths of seven people. Nearly 4,000 migrants have been arrested and thrown into the already overcrowded city jails.
Afraid of further arrests, many migrants gathered in front of the CDC. Many are still seeking evacuation to a third country. However, more than 600 migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers, including women and children, were detained in front of the former Community Day Center in Tripoli early this morning, Monday, January 10.
Further detention of migrants raises concerns
The Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) and the International Rescue Committee (IRC) are alarmed by the situation in Tripoli. Dax Roque, the Norwegian Refugee Council’s Libya Country Director, said:
"Witnesses have told us they were met with violence this morning and that makeshift tents were burnt down. This is the culmination of a disastrous situation that has deteriorated over the last few months. Since the mass detention of thousands of migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers in October of last year, the situation for this population in Libya has only got worse."
Thomas Garofalo, the International Rescue Committee's Country Director, said in a statement that the organization's medical teams have been supporting those injured during this morning's arrests, including one person suffering from a gunshot wound. "We understand that hundreds of people, including many women and children, have now been sent onwards to detention centers where conditions are often already dire."
He added: "As we enter a new year, the events unfolding should act as yet another reminder that the current situation for migrants and refugees in Libya is untenable and requires a new approach that respects the rights of people on the move."
What alternatives exist for migrants?
With the doors of the CDC now closed, what alternatives are there for migrants? "We will provide emergency assistance at other locations in Tripoli. Since the end of December, we have been able to operate again at our main registration center in Serraj [whose activities had been temporarily suspended on December 1, editor's note]", Gluck tells InfoMigrants.
Between 200 and 300 people a day receive assistance from UNHCR there. According to the Refugees in Libya Twitter page, administered by a migrant living in Libya, around 100 migrants were already camping in front of their premises last week.
Gluck also advises migrants to contact the helplines provided by UNHCR and its partners*. And recalls that between October and December, nearly 4,000 asylum seekers and refugees received financial support in cash. UNHCR teams also provided administrative assistance to "more than 8,000 people" in the same period.
A 'death sentence' for thousands of refugees
For migrants and NGOs alike, the closure of the CDC remains very problematic. For the Sea Rescue organization Iuventa Crew, this decision is synonymous with "the death penalty" for thousands of refugees. "We beg the UNHCR not to close its doors," pleaded the Italian rescue ship's crew on Twitter.
Yambio David Oliver, a South Sudanese migrant and manager of the Refugees in Libya Twitter page, fears in particular that the protesters will no longer have access to UNHCR aid. According to him, on December 22, the agency had promised the following to some of the demonstrators who were retained on a list: financial aid, hygiene kits, food, plastic sheeting and medical interventions. However he noted on Twitter that so far, none of this has been done.
"We have received this list and verified it," confirms Caroline Gluck. "Over 66 names on the list were duplicates, many had also received assistance from us in the past. And some people were not on our records."
She continues, "But we'll be providing a new round of help next week, prioritizing those on the list who are eligible, including those who are homeless or who have registered their address outside of the CDC. People who are not registered with us will be able to make an appointment."
From October to December, "more than 1,650 people received emergency food packages, in addition to 21,000 food aid recipients in Tripoli, Azzawiya, Misrata and Zwara," said Gluck.
In addition, Yambio David Oliver has launched an online fundraiser for migrants. "We need medicine and food. We also need to buy banners and paint for the protest. And pay us rent and find shelter."
Always kidnappings and arrests
While migrants can no longer turn to the CDC, "Libyan authorities continue to arrest and illegally kidnap refugees and asylum seekers on the pretext of irregularities. On January 4, dozens of migrants were piled up and then arbitrarily detained at Tariq Al Seka, according to Refugees in Libya.
Yambio David Oliver also fears further violence from Libyan law enforcement agencies. "We even risk being forcibly evicted from the neighborhood we are in now, he laments. Some of our militants have been kidnapped by different security forces, different militias."
The humanitarian agencies have called on the Libyan authorities to immediately release those detained – particularly women, children, and refugees - and protect them from further violence. They also urge the international community to immediately expand resettlement and other safe and regular pathways for refugees, asylum seekers and other migrants who wish to leave Libya.
This is an adaptation of the original article by Marlène Panara Published on January 7, 2022
* Here are the UNHCR phone lines you can contact if you need help:
"Protection" hotline: 0917 127 644 (protection problems in urban areas)
UNHCR Registration Hotline: 0919 897 937
In Benghazi: 0910 007 218
Tawasul Common Feedback Mechanism, line 1404 (all queries)
You can also contact UNHCR's partners for specific requests:
CESVI, to make an appointment: 091 002 7716 or 092 276 166
IRC, for medical care: 091 035 4839 (medical emergencies), 091 034 7365 (general consultations), 091 035 4818 (reproductive health, prenatal consultations)