Thousands of migrants arrested in Libyan security forces crackdown

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Dozens of people, including women and children, spent weeks sleeping in the streets outside the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Libya. Desperately seeking shelter, the families, from sub-Saharan Africa, fled to offices on October 1, after Libyan security forces launched a brutal campaign against migrants. Fearing for their safety, they ask to be evacuated from the country as soon as possible.

Migrants from sub-Saharan Africa have lived in fear since the start of this wave of raids and arrests, especially those living in the commune of Gargaresh, located about ten kilometers west of Tripoli and known for its important migrant population. Security forces launched a brutal operation there on October 1. Claiming to “fight drug trafficking,” security forces broke down doors and raided people’s homes, forcibly dragging residents and even using firearms.

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© {{scope.credits}} One person was killed during the operation and at least 15 people were injured, some of them by gunfire. A total of 4,000 migrants have been arrested – most from Sudan, Eritrea or Somalia. Hundreds of women and children were also arrested.

“They loaded them onto buses or vans like cattle. Samira (not her real name) is a 22 year old student. She was born in Tripoli but does not have Libyan nationality because her parents are Sudanese. She says she has lived in a climate of terror since the start of the operation several weeks ago.

I live about ten minutes from the Gargaresh neighborhood, where the arrests took place. It was terrifying. Anti-migration police [Editor’s note: Security forces who are officially part of the Directorate of Combatting Illegal Migration] and soldiers surrounded the neighborhood. They kicked in doors and forced people out of their homes, beating them. Then they loaded them onto buses or vans like cattle. They also took their phones and any money they might have had.

Among those arrested were my neighbors, whom I have known for years, and pregnant women. The security forces made no distinction between the people they arrested – they even took people who had documents proving they had made asylum claims or UNHCR papers proving they had. refugee status.

Migrant families slept outside UNHCR offices in Tripoli on October 16.

Most of the migrants who were arrested were crowded into the Ghut Shaal detention center, which quickly ran out of food and water due to the large number of people being held there.

A few days later, on October 8, security forces shot at migrants inside the detention center, killing at least six detainees. In the chaos that followed, hundreds of terrorized people tried to flee the center. The vice-president of the Libyan Presidential Council, Moussa al-Koni, apologized at a press conference on October 10 for these “unfortunate events of which the migrants were victims”.

This image shows people fleeing the Ghut Shaal detention center after six detainees were shot dead by security forces on October 8.

Faced with this wave of mass arrests, many migrants gathered in front of the UNHCR office, hoping to find protection. But the UN presence did not stop a group of men from beating and then shooting a Sudanese man named Amer Baker in front of some of the families who were camping there on October 14.

“A little hope is that humanitarian flights will restart”, continues Samira:

[On Monday, October 17], security forces closed the main road to Gargaresh. I saw it all from my balcony. In recent days, the anti-migration police have been patrolling the neighborhood non-stop. I saw police officers arrest residents and ask them, “Are there any strangers among you?

I was afraid for my own safety, because my skin is black. My parents immigrated to Libya over 40 years ago and I was born in Tripoli, but we still face all kinds of discrimination. I do not have the right to obtain Libyan nationality and I have a residence permit that I must renew regularly.

After the wave of arrests on October 1, I didn’t step outside for a week because I knew the police wouldn’t care about the details, they could easily throw me in jail without verifying my identity.

There is a little hope in all of this. A combination of media coverage and pressure from human rights NGOs led the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to announce that they would resume organizing humanitarian flights for people with refugee status . [Editor’s note: The UNHCR has been evacuating people from Libya to third countries, via a program called the Emergency Transit Mechanism. The refugees are then given options, including resettlement].

Friends of mine, who are migrants, told me that they had received messages from UNHCR telling them to be ready. The Libyan authorities had suspended humanitarian flights from Libya since August 8, without any explanation.

I really hope that the evacuation procedures will speed up.

In a statement issued on October 14, UNHCR explained that after the suspension of flights by the Libyan authorities, some resettlement countries decided they could no longer receive asylum claims from Libya this year.

“This will result in the loss of 162 places on direct resettlement flights and could jeopardize nearly 1,000 places through the Emergency Transit Mechanism, which provides vital respite in Rwanda and Niger for refugees and asylum seekers. vulnerable asylum while long-term alternatives are sought, ”he added. The UNHCR statement reads.

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