Of the 200 children trying to reach Europe who have been intercepted at sea and returned to Libya so far this year, almost all have been arbitrarily detained, the International Rescue Committee says.

The majority of those seeking a better life in Europe were Somalian, Eritrean and Sudanese, and most of the children were aged 12-15*. Over a quarter were unaccompanied minors. Some were infants under one year of age. 20 per cent were children with disabilities or children at risk because their caregiver was sick. When the shooting incident took place at the Khoms disembarkation point on Monday night, 15 children were present. They, along with all other children who have been returned from sea, are in urgent need of protection.

However, rather than being provided with the support they are so desperately in need of, most have been sent to live in overcrowded, unsanitary detention centres where they are now at even greater risk - not only of COVID-19, but also of violence and abuse. 

Tom Garofalo, the IRC’s Country Director in Libya, said:

“Absolutely no one should be detained in Libya’s detention centres - least of all a child. Since March this year, we’ve provided emergency medical care to over 3,800 people who were seeking safety in Europe but were brought back to Libya from sea - including over 200 children. Many are in a terrible condition when they are returned: some have been at sea for weeks. Some have seen fellow passengers die before their eyes. When they are disembarked, people who have been through so much need support, especially psychosocial care, but instead they are sent to detention centres where support is extremely limited.

“June was the busiest month this year in terms of the number of people who were stopped at sea and returned to Libya and we will only see the numbers increase as the weather continues to improve. People are desperate to leave Libya because of the conditions they are living in. Every day, they know they could be abducted, detained and held for ransom. Every day, they struggle to earn a living to make ends meet. They do not risk their lives at sea for nothing - it is a last resort as they seek safety for themselves and their families. Detaining them upon their return is not the answer. We urgently need to get people out of detention, to prevent additional people being detained, and to get all those at risk to a place of safety.”

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. 

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.


Notes to Editors

*This data was collected by the IRC’s health and protection teams, who are permitted only to provide 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, 29 boats have been brought back from sea and over 3,800 people - including migrants, refugees and asylum seekers - have been disembarked.

About the IRC in Libya

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. As Libya continues to endure political instability and violence, the IRC is focused 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 IRC has launched a US $30 million appeal to help us mitigate the spread of coronavirus among the world’s most vulnerable populations. We are working across three key areas: to mitigate and respond to the spread of coronavirus within vulnerable communities; protect IRC staff; and ensure the continuation of our life-saving programming as much as possible across more than 40 countries worldwide.