Libya + 1 more

New IRC data: Nearly 500 children sent to Libyan detention centres in past 6 months; IRC calls for immediate closure of inhumane centres

Tripoli, Libya, October 8, 2020 — Over the past six months, close to 500* children have been intercepted at sea and brought back to Libya after trying to reach safety in Europe, data from the International Rescue Committee (IRC) reveals.

Between March and September 2020, over 5,800 people risked their lives trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea - including 19 pregnant women. All - including children - have been sent to the country's detention centres.

IRC staff have reported an alarming increase in the number of detainees in recent weeks. In one detention centre in Tripoli, the number of detainees increased from 23 to over 1,000 in the last two weeks of September - despite currently having the capacity to host and feed only 150 people per day.

With confirmed COVID cases having risen by almost 150% through September - and continuing to climb - the overcrowding and appalling conditions in these centres must urgently be addressed to help mitigate the spread of the disease, the IRC warns.

Tom Garofalo, Country Director for the IRC in Libya, said:

"When people are brought back to Libya from sea they are in desperate need of support. Many have been drifting for days and are seriously dehydrated. They have burns on their bodies from the sun and the fuel, and many witness the deaths of their fellow passengers. For children, this is deeply distressing and when they are brought back they are in need not only of medical care to treat their wounds, but also of psychological support to help them cope with what they have seen and experienced.

"Survivors have experienced what the rest of us can only imagine. Many have been raped, tortured, beaten, detained and further abused - sometimes multiple times. And it is these factors, among many more, that drive them to attempt to reach Europe. To send people already in such a fragile state to overcrowded, unsanitary detention centres is deplorable at the best of times, but during a pandemic - where social distancing and basic hygiene practices are so vital - it is even more reprehensible. This practice needs to be brought to an end immediately, and efforts must be made to ensure that both those newly detained and those who have been in detention for months - if not years - are provided not only with somewhere safe to live but also with the support they need to rebuild their lives."

In January 2020 in Berlin, warring parties committed to begin the process of ending arbitrary detention and gradually closing the detention centres. This week at a follow-up conference, the UN Secretary-General noted that commitments had not been met and called for refugees and migrants "held in detention in inhumane conditions [to] be released and provided with safe shelter." The evidence that children are being returned to detention centres illustrates the grave concern facing migrants and refugees and the critical importance of international action to support authorities to deliver on the commitments they have made by all sides.

The IRC is calling for an immediate end to arbitrary detention and for those brought back from sea to receive all necessary health care and emotional support. Referrals must also be made for those who need further assistance or specialized services. Additionally, COVID testing capacity across the country must be scaled-up and access to health and protection services for migrants, refugees and asylum seekers must be expanded so that they can receive the care they need - something even more vital during the pandemic.