UN Works to Send Home Libya’s Stranded Migrants

UN Works to Send Home Libya’s Stranded Migrants

The United Nations migration agency will send home an additional 15,000 migrants from detention camps in Libya before the year ends, the agency announced Dec. 1.

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) said it registered more than 400,000 migrants in Libya, though it estimates the total number ranges between 700,000 and 1 million. The group’s voluntary repatriation program already returned more than 14,000 migrants to their homes this year. The voluntary program includes migrants from Nigeria, Guinea, and Gambia, among other countries.

Increasing reports of migrant abuse prompted the extra repatriation efforts. CNN in November released a video from a property outside Libya’s capital city, Tripoli, where a salesman auctioned off a dozen people in six minutes for about $400 each. Several migrants who started off with plans to arrive in Europe narrated how smugglers sold them off for daily labor and how they were beaten and held in deplorable conditions.

“Scaling up our return program may not serve to fully address the plight of migrants in Libya, but it is our duty to take migrants out of detention centers as a matter of absolute priority,” said William Lacy Swing, the IOM director general.

More than 160,000 migrants have crossed the Mediterranean Sea and arrived in Europe this year, with 3,038 migrants dying en route, according to the IOM. The number of migrant arrivals dipped from the same time last year after Italy helped the Libyan coast guard stop smuggler boats from crossing the sea. But now thousands more migrants remain stranded in Libyan holding centers.

Libya descended into crisis in 2011 after NATO-backed rebels overthrew and killed longtime authoritative leader Muammar Qaddafi. The country’s political vacuum and insecurity has allowed traffickers who exploit migrants to thrive.

Since the release of the CNN video, more African leaders have stepped up to respond to the crisis. Ghanaian President Nana Akufo-Addo described the video as “gross and scandalous.” The country’s mission in Malta said it visited three detention centers in Tripoli and helped to repatriate some 168 detainees. Nigerian authorities worked with the IOM to repatriate 242 migrants on Wednesday. Abike Dabiri, Nigeria’s special adviser on foreign and diaspora affairs, said about 5,000 Nigerians returned from Libya in the past year.

The European Union, United Nations, and African Union last week set up an emergency plan to respond to the crisis during a summit in Ivory Coast. French President Emmanuel Macron said the plan includes an operational task force made up of European and African security services. “The goal will be in very short order to be able to arrest identified traffickers, dismantle these networks and their financing,” he said.

EU countries agreed to finance the voluntary return of migrants from Libya, currently led by the IOM. Vulnerable migrants who might later qualify for asylum will leave Libya for Chad or Niger before they reach their destination countries.

Sherine El Taraboulsi-McCarthy, a research fellow with the U.K.-based Overseas Development Institute, said any long-lasting solution would make the migrants’ needs a priority. “I don’t think there’s a quick fix for it, but the emergency plan should be to work with the local actors, not necessarily the government, and try to find a solution that would be in the best interest of the migrants,” she said.


Courtesy: WORLD News Service

Photo courtesy: ©Thinkstockphotos.com

Publication date: December 8, 2017