Libya: Renewed commitment to Mediterranean rescues encouraging, but ‘overriding priority’ must be ‘lasting peace’, say UN officials
United Nations, July 23 (Canadian-Media): The heads of the two key UN agencies championing refugees and migrants have called for an end to their “arbitrary detention” across Libya, following an agreement on Tuesday by European Union countries to offer those fleeing across the Mediterranean a safe berth through a new distribution mechanism, UN reports said.
Third Country Nationals unload baggage from an IOM ship as the boat docks in Libya's Benghazi port. (File). Image Credit: IOM/Nicole Tung
“The violence in Tripoli in recent weeks has made the situation more desperate than ever, and the need for action critical”, stressed António Vitorino, Director General of the International Organization of Migration (IOM), and Filippo Grandi, UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
Disagreements on how to distribute people rescued at sea, led the European Union (EU) to end official Mediterranean Sea patrols earlier this year, as Italy rejected having to take the bulk of those rescued.
While the specifics have not yet been outlined, news agencies reported that 14 EU countries have reached a tentative agreement to allocate migrants and refugees more evenly across the bloc.
The UN officials advocated for a more orderly release process for those in detention, within urban areas or open centres, “that allow reasonable freedom of movement, shelter, assistance and protection from harm, plus independent monitoring and regular unhindered access for humanitarian agencies”.
Considering the risks of abuse, maltreatment or death, “no one should be returned to detention centres in Libya after being intercepted or rescued at sea”, they stressed.
They said the renewed commitment from EU States for those making the dangerous Mediterranean crossing was encouraging: “The status quo, where search and rescue operations are often left to NGO [non-governmental organizations] or commercial vessels, cannot continue”, underscored the high-ranking officials, calling for a renewed commitment to an EU State search and rescue operation, “similar to programmes we have seen in recent years”.
The “crucial role” of NGOs “must be acknowledged”, they continued and not criminalized or stigmatized for saving lives at sea.
“Commercial vessels, who are increasingly being relied upon to conduct rescue operations, must not be requested to transfer rescued people to the Libyan Coast Guard, nor directed to disembark them in Libya, which is not a port of safety”, they spelled out.
They said the discussions on establishing a temporary, predictable arrangement for disembarking people after they have been rescued at sea, and sharing responsibility amongst States for hosting them afterwards, were promising, noting that “a joined-up approach to this situation is in everyone’s interests”.
No one should be returned to detention centres in Libya after being intercepted or rescued at sea – UN officialsThey both maintained that “brokering a lasting peace in Libya must be the overriding priority”.
In the meantime, evacuations and resettlement away from Libya continue to be a vital lifeline for people facing an immediate threat to their lives.
“Greater efforts are needed to address why people leave their homes in the first place”, they stated.
While multiple conflicts in North and Sub-Saharan Africa continue unresolved, and development challenges persist, "some will continue to seek alternatives for themselves and their families”, they said.
“The international community should use any leverage it has to bring the warring parties together in dialogue and establish a political solution that restores stability and security”, concluded the UN officials.
In aftermath of Libya airstrike deaths, UN officials call for refugees and migrants to be freed from detention
#IOM; LibyaRefugees; #Migrants; #UNHCR
New York, July 12 (Canadian-Media/UN): “As a priority, we ask that 5,600 refugees and migrants currently held in centres across Libya be freed in an orderly manner and their protection guaranteed” the UN refugee and migrants chiefs said in a joint statement, released on Friday.
UNHCR Chief of Mission for Libya, Jean-Paul Cavalieri, takes statements from officials, refugees and migrants after arriving at Tajoura detention centre. (3 July 2019). Image credit: © UNHCR/Mohamed Alalem
The call comes in response to the 3 July airstrikes on the Tajoura Detention Centre in the eastern suburbs of the Libyan capital, Tripoli, which killed more than 50 migrants and refugees and injured more than 130, despite the location of the centre being known by both sides of the ongoing conflict in the country.
António Vitorino, Director General of the International Organization for Migration (IOM), and UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi, insisted that the international community should “consider the protection of the human rights of migrants and refugees a core element of its engagement in Libya”, pointing out that they have appealed to the European Union and African Union to prevent a repeat of the “tragedy”.
If the protection of refugees and migrants in Libya cannot be guaranteed, said the UN officials, they must be evacuated to other countries. For this to be possible, countries, they said, must provide more evacuation and resettlement places, and extra resources.
Mr. Vitorino and Mr. Grandi called for Libya to end the practice of detaining refugees and migrants rescued at sea, and consider alternatives, such as allowing them to live in the community, in open spaces, or establishing semi-open safe spaces such us the Gathering and Departure Facility run by the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR).
Some 400 survivors of the airstrike have been moved to the Facility, they continued, which is now badly overcrowded. UNHCR is working to evacuate them from Libya, particularly the most vulnerable.
"NGO boats must not be penalized for saving lives at sea" said UN migration chief António Vitorino and UN Refugees chief Filippo Grandi
Libya ‘cannot be considered a safe port’
Some 50,000 registered refugees and asylum seekers, and an estimated 800,000 migrants, are currently living in Libya, and many remain detained in the country where “sufferings and human rights abuses continue”.
People rescued from the Mediterranean, said the UN officials, should not be taken to Libya, because it “cannot be considered a safe port”, and ships from European countries should resume search and rescue operations which have saved thousands of lives.
Commercial vessels should not be directed to bring rescued passengers back to Libya, the statement continues, and NGO boats which have attempted to take on similar operations must “not be penalized for saving lives at sea”.
Support to Libyan authorities, they conclude, should be conditional on an end to arbitrary detention of refugees and migrants, and a guarantee that human rights will be upheld. “Without this guarantee, support should be halted.”
Bangladesh’s Rohingya Camps Hit by 7th Day of Wind, Rain - IOM Scales Up Distribution of Emergency Materials
#Rohingyarefugeecamps; SouthernBangladesh, #severemonsoonrains
UN, Jul 11 (Canadian-Media/UNHCR): Unrelenting rain and winds are continuing to batter the Rohingya refugee camps of southern Bangladesh, displacing thousands of people, damaging homes and infrastructure, and increasing the risk of waterborne illnesses. The severe monsoon rains, which have pounded Cox’s Bazar since July 4th are the worst weather the district has experienced for over a year.
“The rain and wind are causing misery on the ground and our teams are working day and night to provide emergency services and relocations to affected people. While we are grappling with the immediate effects of the storms, we still have to remain focused on long-term disaster management," said IOM Bangladesh Deputy Chief of Mission Manuel Pereira.
“IOM supported nearly 6,000 people with emergency items and trained 570 in emergency response on 9-10 July 2019. But we recognize that this storm system is having a major impact on people in the camps and we are only half way through the monsoon season,” he added.
Monsoon-related damage to homes and infrastructure in the Cox’s Bazar refugee camps in 2019 could far exceed that of 2018. Photo Credit: IOM/Mashrif Abdullah
In the past 48 hours, IOM teams have distributed 5,079 plastic tarpaulins to families impacted by the storms. A total of 152 mm of precipitation was recorded in the Kutupalong mega-camp over the past 24 hours.
IOM and its humanitarian partners are continuing to monitor weather and assist affected communities as needed. With rains continuing this morning, IOM engineers are concerned about worsening damage to paths, bridges and drainage systems, if weather conditions do not improve.
As of last night, 998 individuals and 912 households had been impacted by severe weather over the previous 24 hours. IOM teams reported six landslides, eight wind storms and a total 174 people displaced.
ISCG – the coordinating body for aid agencies operating in Cox’s Bazar – says that monsoon-related damage this year could be far worse than in 2018. It reports:
Over 45,000 individuals have been affected since the end of April due to weather-related incidents, compared to 55,000 affected during the whole of last year’s monsoon season.
5,600 individuals have already been displaced, compared to 6,200 individuals in the 2018 monsoon.
In the first 10 days of July 2019, 22,000 people were affected by the monsoon compared to 19,000 in the whole of July 2018.
#Heavyrain; #floods; #Refugeesvolunteers; #emergecyrelief
United Nations, Jul 5 (Canadian-Media): Heavy monsoon rains in Bangladesh have drenched the Cox’s Bazar settlement, home to more than 900,000 Rohingya refugees, destroying some 273 shelters, and injuring 11 people, the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, said on Friday.
The huge refugee camp has been hit by three days of non-stop rain, and more heavy downpours are expected throughout next week, with four months of the monsoon season still to go.
Refugee camps in Cox's Bazar turned to mud after the rains, with some areas completely flooded/ Credit: WFP/Gemma Snowdon
Refugees volunteers assist in emergency relief
Refugee volunteers trained by UNHCR and partners, worked throughout the night on Wednesday in heavy rain, to help families in urgent need. In some cases, this involved rescuing refugees from shelters destroyed by the 26 reported landslides.
Around 2,137 people have been relocated, either because their shelters have suffered substantial damage, or as a precaution, and emergency supplies are being distributed to help rebuild, repair and strengthen damaged shelters.
Preparations for the monsoon season in Cox’s Bazar have included building retaining structures on hillsides, installing drainage, and building roads and bridges. Reservoirs have been also constructed to hold monsoon rains and stabilise water supplies.
Since January, some 21,000 refugees have been employed each month by the UN’s World Food Programme (WFP), under a cash for work scheme, assisting disaster risk reduction and engineering work designed to make the camps safer, including the stabilisation of slopes.
Situation in Cox’s Bazar ‘remains critical’
At a press briefing at the UN Office in Geneva on Friday, WFP spokesperson Herve Verhoosel said that this year, UN agencies and NGOs will complete reforestation work across more than 200 hectares of the camps, which will help to stabilise the land and reduce the risk of landslides. WFP is responsible for around 40% of the reforestation, with technical inputs from the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, FAO.
Food stocks for thousands of refugees in Cox’s Bazar have been damaged by the flooding, said Mr. Verhoosel. WFP has been providing 4,889 people with high energy biscuits and hot meals, and has enough supplies to feed more than 160,000 people in an emergency.
He added that almost two years after the 2017 influx of Rohingya in Bangladesh, the situation remains critical. The refugees remain highly vulnerable to food insecurity and the situation would rapidly deteriorate if humanitarian assistance were to cease or decrease: “It costs WFP US$24 million every month to feed almost 900,000 refugees and, without continued support from the international community, the situation for these refugees would become increasingly dire.”