The UN-run refugee center in Libya has recently started turning down masses of people, including women and children, asylum seekers have reported. Before the UN opened their facility in Libya, the main holding centers in Libya were government-run detention centers. These facilities are in such atrocious conditions that some refugees deem it safer to stay on the streets. They have become notorious for being operated at over-capacity, and stories of abuse of all types are not uncommon. In addition, Al Jazeera reports that, from September 2018 to May 2019, at least 22 detainees died due to lack of medical resources. These details are just a few of the atrocities that these refugees face while they await their treacherous journey across the Mediterranean.
It is fair to wonder if these detention facilities really are in fact much safer than life outside. A report to Reuters confirms otherwise as it says some nationalities “outside detention centers are targeted by human traffickers, are kidnapped, and then you have extortion, you have torture.” The awful conditions of the government-run detention centers, and the potential fate of those who are on the street, strongly suggests the need for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) to build a facility. This center was originally designed to house people of particular vulnerability, such as women and children. Al Jazeera reports that recently, more than 900 refugees were forced to leave the UNHCR center. In response, more than 40 refugees took a stand and protested outside of the facility with signs reading, “refugees want peace, not rejection” and “we need a system of appeal.”
This is supposedly the first time that the UNHCR has denied access to such a large number of people. The basis on which they were denied access was mostly one of being at over-capacity, a problem not unique to this facility. Al Jazeera reports from The UNHCR that some of the people who requested relocation had some concerns; including “issues with their identity, their country or place or origin, [and] events in their country of origin or linked to their flight.” I think it is worth asking if the value of a person’s life is determined by the answer to these questions.
This act of the UNHCR spurred extreme fear for refugees in Libya. Al Jazeera includes some personal testimonies in their account. A woman from Somalia was forced to leave the UNHCR center with her 3 year old son. She reports in a phone call, “In Libya, it’s like Somalia, they are fighting each other. If you go outside there is a lot of violence.” If this woman and her son are not considered “vulnerable people” then who is? Another case is a young woman from Eritrea who was sent into panic at the idea of potentially being forced out of the UNHCR facility and back to the detention center where she was subject to electrocution. These atrocities shout at us the need for change, and for it to happen quickly.
There is a sad reality in this situation, that if there is a lack of support from other countries than of course, the burden will be too heavy for one country, one organization, one facility to carry. While there is a need for an immediate solution to the refugee crisis in Libya, there is ultimately a much bigger need for change in the world at large to provide more support for these people forced to leave their homes. Teamwork and alliance in protecting migrants is the only way to ensure their safety. If countries are left in isolation to deal with more people than their resources allow, inhumane conditions and crime will unfortunately abound. Thus, let us remember the call to help our neighbor and open our doors.