As the security situation quickly deteriorates in Libya, the United Nations says it is very concerned about the safety of asylum-seekers and refugees in Libya who are stranded in areas under heavy fighting.
U.N. Refugee Agency spokesperson Ariane Rummery said UNHCR is receiving calls from the mostly Palestinian and Syrian refugees in Libya who need assistance. About 37,000 people are recorded with UNHCR in Tripoli and Benghazi, areas of heavy violence between the military and insurgents.
“In Tripoli alone, more than 150 people from Eritrea, Somalia and other countries have phoned our protection hotline seeking help with medicines or a safer place to stay.”
UNHCR is especially concerned about one Palestinian and three Syrians who are trapped in between Libya and Egypt. They are asking Egyptian authorities to give the group access to food and water.
Rummery also said refugees in Libya see leaving as their only option. Many Libyan refugees are trying to leave the country by sea. The airport in Tripoli has been unavailable for days. Tunisia and Egypt are inaccessible for refugees, so the sea is the only way out. Smugglers are making use of the situation as these desperate people risk their lives to leave Libya and take the dangerous journey across the Mediterranean to Europe.
“We recently heard of a group of 500 Syrians who left in about three boats toward Italy from Benghazi, and this is a new and much more dangerous journey because it takes longer to reach Italy. Over 1,000 people have died in the Mediterranean this year and the latest casualties drowned last week off Al-Khums, which is about 100 kilometers (62 miles) east of Tripoli.”
UNHCR is advising Libyan authorities to lessen exit visa restrictions to let people leave Libya. They are also calling for Egypt and Tunisia to open their borders to the people trying to escape violence.
While the fighting continues in Libya, a newly elected parliament has met in hopes that they can bring peace. Libya has experience violent conflict since the 2011 uprising that overthrew Muammar al-Qadhafi.
– Colleen Moore