Libya, migrants rounded up, risk of new violence

On January 10th, hundreds of migrants were raided and arrested in front of the former UNHCR office in Tripoli



On January 10th, hundreds of migrants who have been stationing for weeks in front of the ex-office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Tripoli, were raided by Libyan security forces: some managed to escape while others were taken to a detention centre in the nearby city of Ain Zara.


This is the image that best reflects the chaos and violation of rights that has been going on in Libya for years, as Valeria Anzalone, programme coordinator for INTERSOS in Libya, explains: “All those people who are camped out have been there since September, they come from the detention centres that were closed last year and now they have nowhere else to go”.


Political uncertainty in Libya


Following the annulment of the general elections, the hope for change in Libya remains on hold, likewise the 1.3 million people in need of humanitarian aid, the almost 200,000 internally displaced persons and the 610,000 migrants and refugees in the country. The migrants who have been stationed in Libya for years are the image of an unresolved issue that involves and calls into question Europe. “We have been seeing these people for weeks”,  Anzalone says “A real informal settlement, with degradation increasing. A situation that seems to find no solution. Some of these people have ended up in the few detention centres still open or are trying to leave by embarking to cross the Mediterranean”. Over the years, Libya has mainly meant lives lost at sea. More than 1,800 migrants drowned attempting the crossing in 2021, according to UNHCR figures.


There has been a lot of speculation about future scenarios for the country in recent years, from the start of the civil war that erupted in 2014, with the supposed peace process only starting in 2020, to today, a new year with broken promises and violated expectations.


The government elections scheduled for December 24 were cancelled as a result of continuing tensions between the east and west of the country over candidates, the electoral system and territorial influences. A few days before the vote, the electoral process, which was supposed to bring stability to a territory plagued by years of civil war, was suspended by the commission in charge and postponed until a future date.


The fear of a possible resurgence of war


With elections postponed and tension rising throughout the territory, especially in the south, the humanitarian intervention of the NGOs has become more challenging: “In December, when we felt the tension rising, we decided to close for a few days our centre for minors in the city of Sabah where, as in the centre in Ajdabiya (in the east), we provide psycho-social assistance to about 200 unaccompanied minors in 2021, says Anzalone who, in those very weeks, was in Tripoli. “In the wake of the postponed elections, there were some dangerous episodes in Tripoli as well, with military deployments in the streets and checkpoints. Currently there have been no major clashes, but the atmosphere is tough. The situation will remain the same in the coming months”.


Instability in Libya affects all areas, from security to politics, from the economy to social cohesion. “The population is living day to day, there is a shortage of petrol, electricity is decreasing, and blackouts are increasing. We, as INTERSOS, are trying to carry out our activities with power generators, but in the long run, this lack of electricity could lead us to suspend activities in the country”.


Education, health and reconstruction


Despite the ongoing uncertainty, INTERSOS activities are moving forward. “We are going on with both the reconstruction of schools and health centres as well as with the activities of the children’s centres”. This past year, we assisted around 1,600 children in Tripoli. “We distributed school supplies to 1,500 children, facilitated formal school enrollment for 32 children and provided about 300 children with basic medical services, such as medical screening, along with conducting vaccine awareness campaigns for children”.


The political vacuum, the chaos, the lack of security, the infrastructure damaged during the war years, the unavailability of basic services and the multitude of houses destroyed are the picture of a country waiting to start again. What makes the difference in such a context is the humanitarian intervention. Anzalone concludes, by saying that “With our team, we are active in all the most complex areas of the country, even where the services are almost non-existent. In 2021, we restored and supplied 8 medical clinics, 2 schools and 3 professional centres”.

Flavia Melillo
Flavia Melillo