Libya: As Armed Clashes Enter 2nd Month, Growing Insecurity Endangers Displaced Civilians, Migrants

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The International Organisation for Migration (IOM), a United Nations agency, is seriously concerned about the deteriorating humanitarian situation in Tripoli, the Libyan capital, and the neighbouring areas.

The IOM Libya’s Displacement Tracking Matrix (DTM), says there are currently over 66,000 displaced individuals, approximately 13,310 families, from affected areas in Tripoli since the onset of the armed conflict on April 4.

The rapidly increasing displacement figures are worrying as fighting intensifies in the absence of a humanitarian ceasefire. DTM’s Emergency Event Tracking, activated on April 5, is helping to identify instances of displacement, as well as consolidating and disseminating vital information IOM uses to plan the broader humanitarian community’s response.

The situation is especially alarming for over 3,300 migrants, among them children and pregnant women.

According to Othman Belbeisi, IOM Libya Chief of Mission, “while our teams on the ground continue to provide emergency humanitarian assistance to conflict-affected populations, we recognise that more needs to be done from all sides to ensure the safety of civilians.

“We are worried about the dramatically deteriorating humanitarian situation in Tripoli and reiterate that there is an urgent need to end the detention of migrants in Libya and stop displacement.”

On May 10, a migrant boat departing Zwara, Libya capsized off the Tunisian coast, and 59 lives were lost. This brings the death toll in the Central Mediterranean Route to 316 so far this year, and 502 for all Mediterranean Sea routes.

Since the beginning of the clashes, 871 migrants have been returned to Libya and placed in detention, bringing the total number of migrants repatriated to Libya to 2,813 this year.

IOM is concerned about the return of migrants to an unsafe port and their placement in often overcrowded detention centres where conditions are not acceptable. While we provide health assistance, non-food items, emergency food assistance and Voluntary Humanitarian Return support to migrants wishing to return home, we reiterate that IOM cannot guarantee the protection of detained migrants and continues to call for an urgent end to detention.

Despite security challenges, IOM emergency interventions continue, in 11 detention centres within and near Tripoli; in locations for internally displaced families, and across Libya. Since 4 April 1,402 migrants have returned to 19 countries of origin with support from IOM’s Voluntary Humanitarian Return programme.

The joint Rapid Response Mechanism launched by IOM, UNFPA, WFP and UNICEF, has reached so far 18,210 individuals with much-needed core relief items. Moreover, 2,511 migrants and internally displaced persons have been provided with health assistance including 58 hospital referrals.

IOM Tunisia reported that Friday’s tragedy began about 60 kilometers from Tunisian waters May 7, when a vessel carrying 75 migrants, mainly Bangladeshi nationals, made an attempt to reach Europe. During the night of May 9, Tunisian fishermen were able to rescue 16 people from the overcrowded craft. Tunisian naval units continue to seek information on the voyage; to date only three bodies have been rescued. One of those victims has been identified.

Tunisian authorities took four survivors to Zarzis Hospital, where two remain in critical condition. Of the rescued, 14 are Bangladeshi (including two unaccompanied minors) one is Egyptian, one is Moroccan. Those not hospitalized have been hosted by the Tunisian Red Crescent.

A second rescue took place on Saturday, May 11. Tunisian fishermen rescued sixty-nine migrants, including Moroccans, Eritreans, Somalis, Bangladeshi and an Egyptian. Among them, were four women and at least 25 minors, including children aged three to seven years.

Those 69 rescued migrants, since transferred to Sfax, are thought to have left Libya on May 7, at the same time those on the shipwrecked boat departed.

IOM teams mobilised to provide medical, psycho-social and food assistance to survivors. “It is essential to put in place efficient mechanisms to respond to humanitarian emergencies, not the least of which are attempts of irregular crossings on the Mediterranean,” said Lorena Lando, Head of IOM mission to Tunisia. “We must act now and together,” she added.

From May 9-12, the Tunisian coastguard and naval units conducted prevention operations that thwarted attempts at irregular crossings from Sfax, Sousse, Monastir, Bizerte and Tunis, with more than 100 migrants at the beginning of the season.

The tragic death of 37 Bangladeshis in a boat sinking in the Mediterranean is the latest in a string of accidents involving migrant workers from the developing South Asian country.

“It’s deplorable how migrants continue to die in the Mediterranean trying to make perilous journeys,” said IOM Bangladesh Chief of Mission Giorgi Gigauri. “Lack of knowledge on safe migration, violence in host countries and influence of middlemen are leading Bangladeshis to make risky migration choices. Stronger protections for migrants’ rights in both home and destination countries must be ensured.”

Every year, thousands of Bangladeshis migrate in search of jobs and opportunities in the Middle East or Europe, making it one of the world’s top sources of migrant workers. Many cannot afford adequate airfare or visas and fall under the sway of migrant smugglers who arrange transport in exchange for bonded labour and other exploitative arrangements. Migrants on average end up paying USD 5,000-7,000 for their journeys.  As the recent disaster demonstrates, safety conditions on many of the smugglers’ crafts are substandard.

The tragedy is rooted in poverty and limited economic opportunities at home, said Chissey Mueller, Programme Manager with IOM Cox’s Bazar’s Protection Unit. “When people don’t have the access or means for legal migration with visas, passports and plane fare – they often take risks,” she explained.

Simply strengthening enforcement and border controls is not enough to stop the problem, said Mueller. “Continuous improvement of the underlying socioeconomic causes in Bangladesh as a whole, needs to be strengthened. Without that, as in many other countries, you will always have people from this country of 160 million willing to risk danger for opportunities abroad.”

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