The UN Has Condemned The Suffering Of Migrants And Refugees In Libyan Detention Centres, But Is It Enough?


The United Nations has come forward and called for the dismantling of all detention centres in Libya as the facilities are not fit to house migrants according to a report by the BBC. The statement from the UN comes approximately two weeks after a tragic incident in Libya in which an airstrike hit a detention centre, killing 50 migrants and refugees. The victims were mostly African refugees looking to flee conditions of poverty and conflict, only to be housed in those very same conditions. The facility targeted was located within Libyan militia barracks, essentially on the front line between two armed groups.  Consequently, it is a prime target for yet another attack, and yet regardless of this information, nearly 100 people have been sent back to the exact same place. The government is supposed to be an institution promoting security for civilians, instead, Libya only offers endangerment, placing refugees in vulnerable detention centres. Human life should be the primary concern of any government and it is for this reason that the United Nations has called for the release of the 5, 600 refugees currently in these ineffective detention centres. This action should be supported by the broader international community to a greater extent, particularly the European Union.

In a joint press release, International Organization for Migration Director General António Vitorino and U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi have declared that “As a priority, we ask that 5,600 refugees and migrants currently held in centres across Libya be freed in an orderly manner and their protection guaranteed.” This sentiment is echoed in an earlier press briefing, in which a spokesperson for the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Rupert Colville stated that the U.N. was “deeply concerned about the ghastly conditions in which migrants and refugees are being held in detention in Libya.” Colville further added that “we appeal to the authorities in Libya and the international community to ensure that migrants and refugees held in such detention facilities are immediately released, that evacuation, resettlement and voluntary humanitarian return options urgently expanded, and alternatives to detention are developed.” Despite the concern and work from the United Nations, without cooperation with the European Union and Libya, substantial action cannot be made. Therefore, it is essential for the EU to commit to facilitating the evacuation of detainees to safe places and do away with the current policy that is complicit in the suffering of refugees.

The United Nations has done everything in its power to raise the issue with the European Union, however, the protests have been dismissed by the EU, electing not to prioritize human life, a stance that directly contradicts the views of multiple international and EU agencies, as well as a large portion of civil society. Support and agreement between the aforementioned actors are feasible, as well as necessary if the issue is to be addressed effectively, however, despite pleas from the U.N., the agreement still seems farfetched. The European Union has never offered their support to Libyan authorities in closing the detention centres and releasing those unlawfully detained in awful conditions. Instead it has enabled the abdication of European rescue missions in the Mediterranean, engaged in efforts to obstruct or criminalize non-governmental rescue organizations that have sought to fill the hole left behind in the absence of an effective state response and have done the bare minimum by funding humanitarian assistance in detention centres, in spite of the evidence that it is largely ineffectual, as the situation has only deteriorated. The U.N. needs the EU to cooperate if anything is to be done about this abuse of human rights.

Zac Williams