UNHCR has called upon States to urgently release refugees and asylum-seekers who are being unlawful and arbitrarily held in detention, asking that States act in accordance with international law and that amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, vulnerable refugees are not placed at heightened and unnecessary risk.
In Libya, there are some 2,500 people currently held in detention centres across the country, of whom 1,212 are persons of concern to UNHCR. Prior to COVID-19, conditions in detention were already extremely dire and well below minimum standards, with limits on humanitarian actors’, including UNHCR’s, access to detention centres. With the threat of COVID-19 now prevalent in Libya, the situation in detention centres presents an acute health concern due to the substandard sanitary conditions, overcrowding, and nutritional status and existing medical conditions of detainees, which renders them more susceptible to COVID-19.
During the last five months, UNHCR and partners have distributed 9,000 hygiene kits (of 13,081 in total) to detainees in detention centres as part of the COVID-19 response and have continued distribution of non-food item kits and carried out protection monitoring visits when given access (180 visits since the start of 2020). Advocacy for the release of refugees and asylum-seekers from detention is ongoing, noting the additional risks to individuals posed by COVID-19.
In addition to those refugees and asylum-seekers arbitrarily detained, others are held by criminal smuggling and trafficking groups operating in Libya. Many have been traumatised and require specialized medical care and psychosocial support.
UNHCR and the Mixed Migration Centre at the Danish Refugee Council recently issued a new report on the human rights abuses suffered by refugees and migrants on the journeys between West and East Africa and Africa’s Mediterranean coast. The report ‘‘On this journey, no one cares if you live or die’ highlights that efforts to identify and provide protection for refugee survivors of abuses should be strengthened, including in the context of COVID-19. In 2020, risks faced by refugees and migrants along routes from Libya and elsewhere may be further increased as COVID-19 related border closures or movement restrictions may result in the use of more risky routes and further exposure to abuse, exploitation, trafficking (UNODC,How COVID-19 restrictions and the economic consequences are likely to impact migrant smuggling and cross-border trafficking in persons to Europe and North America, May 2020).