Coronavirus narrows options for migrants buffeted by Libya’s war

Migrants resting on the floor of a detention centre, amidst concerns over the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in the city of Zawiya, Libya. (Reuters)
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Updated 08 May 2020

Coronavirus narrows options for migrants buffeted by Libya’s war

  • Libya has an estimated 654,000 migrants – more than 48,000 of them registered asylum seekers or refugees — many of them living in cramped conditions
  • Migrant detention centers have been repeatedly hit in the fighting

CAIRO: After several failed crossings from Libya to Italy and a long spell in detention, Nigerian migrant Olu had pinned his hopes on being evacuated from the besieged city of Tripoli with his family.
Instead, with refugee resettlement disrupted and air space closed against the new coronavirus, he found himself stranded in the Libyan capital as the war intensified, unable to work because of restrictions linked to the pandemic.
So far, there are no reports of the virus spreading among migrants in Libya. But there are fears it could have a devastating impact if it takes hold.
Libya has an estimated 654,000 migrants – more than 48,000 of them registered asylum seekers or refugees — many of them living in cramped conditions with little access to health care.
Restrictions on movement are driving them further into hardship.
“For the past two months I have not been able to work,” said Olu, 38, who has been living in a single room in Tripoli with his wife and five children since his release from a migrant detention center in February.
He has cobbled together enough money for rent and food with transfers from friends and a cash handout from the UN refugee agency UNHCR. But casual labor is still hard to find after a 24-hour curfew was relaxed late last month, and he is worried those funds will run out.
“If I lose this apartment I’d be out on the street and I’d be exposed to this deadly virus,” he said by phone from Tripoli. “So it’s very scary now.” He declined to give his family name for security reasons.
African and Middle Eastern migrants have long come to Libya seeking jobs in the country’s oil-powered economy.
As the country slid into conflict after a NATO-backed uprising in 2011, smugglers put hundreds of thousands of them in boats and sent them off across the Mediterranean toward Italy.
But in the past three years, crossings dropped sharply due to EU and Italian-backed efforts to disrupt smuggling networks and to increase interceptions by Libya’s coast guard, a move condemned by human rights groups.
Rockets
Those intercepted by the coast guard are detained in centers nominally under control of the government, or left to fend for themselves.
Migrant detention centers have been repeatedly hit in the fighting. Late on Thursday a volley of rockets landed on the Tripoli seafront, near a naval base where returned migrants disembark.
Abreham, an Eritrean migrant in detention in Zawiya, west of Tripoli, said he was sleeping in a hangar with about 230 people, including some suspected to have tuberculosis. Those who could not afford to bribe guards were kept in a separate, permanently locked hangar, he said.
“We don’t have enough food. We have 24 TB patients. We don’t have any precautions against coronavirus,” he said in a text message.
Aid agencies that struggle to operate in a country dominated by armed groups are finding it harder to trace returned migrants after they disembark.
“It seems like there are fewer people in detention,” said Tom Garofalo, Libya country director for the International Rescue Committee. “But the question is where are they going, and we don’t know the answer to that, so that’s very distressing.”
UNHCR had been evacuating or resettling some of the most vulnerable refugees until airspace was shut in early April.
The agency, which had to close a transit center in Tripoli in January due to interference by armed groups, is now handing out cash, food and hygiene kits. But payments are hampered by a long-running liquidity crisis at Libya’s banks, said UNHCR’s Libya mission head, Jean-Paul Cavalieri.
He worries that with the loss of livelihoods due to coronavirus, more will attempt sea crossings.
“People are getting desperate,” he said. “We are concerned that some of them will ... put their lives at risk on the sea.”


Saudi Arabia, UAE reaffirm commitment to global fight against Daesh

Updated 1 min 21 sec ago

Saudi Arabia, UAE reaffirm commitment to global fight against Daesh

  • The virtual meeting was attended by ministers from 30 countries
  • Saudi Arabia and UAE congratulated the Iraqi PM for forming the new government

DUBAI: Saudi Arabia and UAE reiterated their commitment to eliminate Daesh and its cells in a virtual meeting for the Global Coalition to Defeat Daesh.
“We in Saudi Arabia are ready to share our experiences in combating terrorism and extremism, preventing their financing and promoting the values of tolerance and openness,” Saudi Minister of Foreign Affairs Faisal bin Farhan said.
The meeting was attended by ministers from 30 countries.
“I would like to cite the work of the Counter ISIS Finance Group (CIFG), chaired by Saudi Arabia, the US, and Italy, and its continuous efforts to eliminate funding sources of Daesh and its affiliates. In our meeting in Copenhagen last January, we affirmed the importance of preventing the exploitation of reconstruction funds,” Farhan added.
The minister drew attention towards the focused efforts on eliminating the terrorist organization in Africa and expressed worries about “the lack of political solutions to the crises in our region, and by the external support given to sectarian militias that promote hatred and extremism.”
Meanwhile, the UAE’s Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash said his country will continue to do everything possible as a co-leader of the Stabilization Task Force together with Germany and the US.
“The UAE has long been aware of the fact that the threat posed by Daesh requires a multi-faceted strategy and a firm commitment. It is this robust coordination between us that has rendered successful our efforts to obstruct the terrorist group’s threats at the international level,” Gargash said.
Both countries also congratulated Iraq’s PM Mustafa Al-Kadhimi on the formation of the new government.