By Vanessa Tomassini.
“The Gathering and Departure Facility (GDF) was established a year ago as a transit centre for detained refugees who’d been identified for a solution outside of Libya. It was a place where we could bring the most vulnerable refugees from detention centers in preparation for evacuation to third countries. It has capacity for around 600 people. Around 400 people had been staying at the center, pending processing for evacuation out of Libya when the situation changed. From July, two new groups arrived (including people formerly held at Tajoura Detention Center, where there was a deadly airstrike) and, from the end of October, a group of about 400 people from Abu Salim detention centre, plus others from urban areas”. Speaking is Caroline Gluck, Senior External Relations Officer at UNHCR Libya, who adds: “this has meant the center is massively overcrowded, with more than 1000 staying there now. We can no longer move some of the most vulnerable refugees out of detention to the center, people who have been prioritized for evacuation. The GDF is an open facility, not a detention center, and people can leave at any time. We hope it can revert to its original function, a place where people can stay before they are evacuated”.
What is the current situation in the GDF?
“It is very overcrowded and this has impacted the level of services we provide. We are encouraging the new arrivals, who are not prioritized for evacuation or resettlement, to accept the urban package of assistance that is being offered. This includes emergency cash assistance for two months, non-food items, access to primary health care and medical referrals. They will also be offered appointments for protection interviews to identify their individual vulnerabilities and possible eligibility for solutions at our registration centre in Sarraj. Departure from the GDF does not rule out being evaluated for durable solutions if their case assessments show they are particularly vulnerable and meet eligibility requirements. Some of those who recently left the GDF to take the urban package of assistance were later assessed to be eligible for humanitarian evacuation. With the package of urban assistance in place, UNHCR will also phase out catering at the GDF in the new year. However, medical services and cleaning facilities will continue to be provided at the GDF. We have communicated these plans with everyone at the GDF and also provided information leaflets. While we recognize that Libya is a very challenging environment for refugees and asylum seekers, more than two-thirds of refugees or asylum seekers living in urban areas (more than 40,000 people) are able to find casual or daily labor for their cash needs”.
What are the medical and psychological conditions of migrants in the structure and how many of them for UNHCR has the right of refugee status?
“Most have arrived there from detention centres. Many are traumatised, and need psycho social service or medical attention. The majority of people are considered asylum seekers, however not all have been registered with UNHCR as persons of concern under our mandate. We do not conduct registration at the GDF, as it was designed for refugees already prioritised for evacuation. Registration can be carried out at our centre in Serraj”.
What is the Community Day Center?
“The Community Day Centre is located in Gurji, Tripoli. It is an open centre in the community UNHCR and our partners (CESVI and IMC) provide a range of services, including primary health care and medical referrals, psychosocial services, distribute core relief items and emergency cash assistance”.
UNHCR has always emphasized that detention should be avoided and the Libyan Ministry of the Interior has closed some centers. What happens to migrants stopped in these days by the Libyan Coast Guard?
“UNHCR continually advocates for the closure of detention centers for asylum seekers and refugees and welcomes the closure of the three centers. In general, people who are rescued at sea or on vessels intercepted by the Libyan Coast Guard are assigned to detention centers in Tripoli or in coastal cities, although in recent months some were allowed to leave upon disembarkation at Libyan ports, due to lack of space in detention or other reasons”.
When armed groups close a DC following an order of GNA Interior Ministry, is there any coordination with UNHCR or people are just released on the road?
“In some instances, people have been transferred to other centers, or the centers had already been emptied in advance of the closure; in others, people have been released into urban areas, where they may approach UNHCR for advice and assistance. We continue to call for close cooperation with the Libyan authorities in the event of closure of any detention centers and the orderly release of people held there”.
Are in Libya still illegal centers that UNHCR and its local partners do not have access to?
“We believe there are many unofficial centres that UNHCR and others are not aware of and do not have access to, run by smugglers or trafficking gangs. UNHCR and its partners visit all official detention centres regularly, where we can provide registration, medical assistance and humanitarian support, included provision of core relief items”.
Speaking with his colleague in Niger and Roberto Mignone few months ago, they had talked about the possibility of distributing migrants trapped in Libya between the various European countries. Is there any agreement in this regard?
“We rely on third countries to provide us places for resettlement. Resettlement and evacuation slots are very limited. We continually advocate for more places and solutions to help vulnerable refugees and asylum seekers out of Libya, a country at war”.
Voluntary repatriation was also discussed, we saw recently that Rwanda has welcomed several hundred migrants. What do you think about it?
“UNHCR and IOM stand ready to assist any refugee or asylum-seeker who is interested to return to their home voluntarily, and who can do so in safety and dignity. The Rwanda mechanism is, however, not specifically linked to voluntary repatriation. Recently, the Government of Rwanda, UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, and the African Union signed a Memorandum of Understanding to set up a transit mechanism for evacuating refugees out of Libya. Under the agreement, the Government of Rwanda will receive and provide protection to refugees and asylum-seekers who are currently being held in detention centers in Libya. They will be transferred to safety in Rwanda on a voluntary basis. After their arrival, UNHCR will continue to pursue solutions for the evacuees. While some may benefit from resettlement to third countries, others will be helped to return to countries where asylum had previously been granted, or to return to their home countries if it is safe to do so. Some may be given permission to remain in Rwanda subject to agreement by the competent authorities. This year, 306 people have been evacuated to Rwanda under this mechanism”.