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Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights: Marta Hurtado

Location: Geneva

Date: 12 October 2021

Subject: Libya

We are extremely worried about the continued suffering of migrants and asylum seekers in Libya who are experiencing a myriad of daily violations and abuses at the hands of both State and non-state actors.

Recently, there has been a perceptible increase in heavy-handed security operations and raids targeting migrants and asylum seekers. These have resulted in killings and serious injuries, a rise in detentions in appalling conditions, as well as expulsions of individuals to countries in sub-Saharan Africa without due process, in violation of the principle of non-refoulement and the prohibition of collective expulsion.

Last week, there was a series of major incidents, beginning on 1 October when Ministry of Interior personnel raided an informal settlement in Gergaresh – about 12 kilometers west of the capital, Tripoli – where hundreds of migrants and asylum-seekers live, including people registered with the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), awaiting completion of their resettlement procedures. Women, children and men were arrested and handcuffed. Security forces used unnecessary and disproportionate force to detain them, including shooting and beating those who resisted or tried to escape. As a result, at least one person died, five were injured, and more than 4,000 were detained.

All those arrested were taken to the al-Mabani Government-run detention centre in Tripoli and kept in extremely overcrowded cells with little access to food or water.

On 2 October, hundreds of migrants were transferred from al-Mabani to Gheriyan detention centre where they are held in unsanitary conditions, with very little access to food or water.

On 6 October, 500 migrants managed to escape from the Gheriyan centre and were chased by guards who opened fire using live ammunition. According to preliminary information, at least four individuals were shot dead, and many others injured.

Two days later, on 8 October, another mass escape took place from the al-Mabani centre. Once again, migrants were chased by security officers who shot at them, injuring and killing an unknown number. Many others were recaptured by armed groups affiliated with Government security agencies and taken to both official and unofficial detention centres.

This series of horrific events over a period of eight days is just the latest example of the precarious, sometimes lethal, situation facing migrants and asylum seekers in Libya. They are criminalized solely for their migration status; are routinely detained in abhorrent conditions; are frequently subjected to extortion and abuse, and in some cases killed. We note that the recent report by the Independent Fact-Finding Mission on Libya concluded that the widespread and systematic violations suffered by migrants in the country could amount to crimes against humanity.

We acknowledge the Government’s promise to free some of the migrants held in al-Mabani detention centre, but recall that they should not have been detained in the first place. We remind the authorities they have an obligation to protect everyone on their territory, including migrants and asylum seekers.

We call on the authorities to establish prompt, thorough, impartial and independent investigations into the claims of unnecessary and disproportionate use of force including the allegations of killings by the security forces and affiliated armed groups, with a view to holding those responsible accountable. Victims have the right to justice and reparations.

We also call on the Libyan authorities to release all arbitrarily detained migrants and asylum seekers, cease the raids on their settlements, halt evicting them and stop criminalizing them. We encourage the authorities to reform the legislation to decriminalize irregular entry, stay and exit of people.

The authorities should also cease forced expulsions and deportations of migrants that do not comply with their due process rights, and are in violation of the principle of non-refoulement and prohibition of collective expulsion.

The Government should assist all families who are separated and, as a matter of urgency, accommodate migrants and asylum seekers in proper and safe conditions, ensuring access to adequate health care, food, water and sanitation. UN agencies and NGOs should also have access to detention centres.

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