Migrants in Libya have told officials of the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), a United Nations agency, at disembarkation points in the troubled North African country that the escalation in hostilities in and around Tripoli, the capital city, and the deteriorating humanitarian situation are the main reasons behind the increase in departures.
This is coming as 136 women and 85 children, were among the 953 migrants returned to Libyan shores in the first two weeks of this 2020. Most were disembarked in Tripoli and all were taken to detention centres.
NGO search and rescue vessels reported rescueing 237 others. These returned migrants are among the more than 1,000 who have left Libya by sea since January 1, driven in part by the heaviest clashes Tripoli has seen since hostilities began nine months ago.
During the same period last year, 23 bodies were recovered by the coast guard and no migrants were returned to Libya. The current sudden increase in departures is especially alarming given the very limited search and rescue capacity in the Mediterranean.
IOM has consistently called for the dismantling of the detention system, and the orderly release of migrants. Alternative solutions that safeguard lives must be found to alleviate the suffering of thousands of men, women, and children who are held in inhumane conditions.
While IOM teams are present at disembarkation points to provide emergency assistance to migrants, including basic health assistance and screenings, the organisation reiterates that measures to protect lives and guarantee the safety of these people are not in place.
Over 1,000 other migrants who have registered for IOM’s Voluntary Humanitarian Return programme are still trapped in Libya due to the security situation. The challenging and unsafe environment in the country’s capital has disrupted aviation activities thus hindering an important lifeline for stranded migrants.
IOM Libya Chief of Mission, Federico Soda, said “while our operations and programmes continue across the country, they have been largely affected, especially with regards to the safe movement of migrants to transit points and airports. A minimum degree of security is needed for us to be able to safely assist 500 people scheduled to return home in the coming days.”