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.
Notes to Editors
*The IRC supported a total of 465 children who were intercepted at sea and brought back to Libya between March and September 2020. This data was collected by the IRC’s health and protection teams, who are permitted to provide only emergency medical care and a few basic supplies to those who are returned, before they are sent to detention centres.
Since March 1, when the IRC began responding at Libya’s disembarkation points, 55 boats have been brought back from sea and 5,866 people - including migrants, refugees and asylum seekers - have been disembarked.
About the IRC
Since August 2016, the IRC has provided emergency and reproductive health services in western Libya. The IRC is one of the few international organizations with a direct presence in Libya with two offices in Tripoli and Misrata. The IRC is supporting the Libyan COVID-19 response with training of front-line health workers and the provision of additional isolation units. Our health staff are part of the five Rapid Response Teams the Ministry of Health has created to carry out initial assessments of suspected cases and tracing of their contacts. With most public health facilities closed in Tripoli and Misrata due to a lack of capacity, our mobile support to the Ministry of Health is proving vital in reaching vulnerable communities in this response.
Throughout the COVID-19 outbreak in Libya, the IRC has been permitted access to provide basic health care and protection services in a limited number of Libya’s detention centres, as well as health and protection assistance at three disembarkation points in the west of Libya, where we assist migrants with the provision of lifesaving medical care. The IRC has also continued working in Misrata, where we assist with the provision of healthcare and protection services, including psychosocial support and activities for refugees waiting to be relocated to Niger/Rwanda via the Emergency Transit Mechanism (ETM). Our focus across all our work is on: providing critical healthcare in hard to reach places in western Libya; providing life-saving medicines to primary health clinics, where possible; providing a referral pathway for patients in urgent need; renovating primary health clinics which have been damaged during the conflict; deploying experienced social workers to provide case management and psychosocial support in communities impacted by the conflict.
The International Rescue Committee responds to the world’s worst humanitarian crises, helping to restore health, safety, education, economic wellbeing, and power to people devastated by conflict and disaster. Founded in 1933 at the call of Albert Einstein, the IRC is at work in over 40 countries and over 20 U.S. cities helping people to survive, reclaim control of their future, and strengthen their communities. Learn more at www.rescue.org and follow the IRC on Twitter & Facebook.