The United Nations center in Libya was opened as an “alternative to detention,” a last, safe stop for migrants before they were resettled in other countries. Now, just a year later, it looks increasingly like the notorious Libyan lockups it was supposed to replace.
The facility is jam-packed with nearly 1,200 migrants — about twice the number it was built for — including hundreds who fled from abuse at other detention centers in hopes of sanctuary. Dozens of patients with tuberculosis languish in a room crammed with mattresses. Sewage is overflowing, and armed guards from a local militia have effectively turned the center into a prison.
Unable to cope, the U.N. last week offered migrants the equivalent of $112 each to leave, and warned that food, already down to emergency rations, would be cut off on Jan. 1 for unapproved arrivals.
“This is very dangerous because among us there are people who are malnourished,” said a 27-year-old Sudanese man who arrived at the center in July. “If they cut food, they won’t be able to stand it.”
“UNHCR does not and will not run places of detention in Libya,” its spokesman, Charlie Yaxley, told the AP.
Yet that is effectively what the Tripoli facility has become. It is called a Gathering and Departure Facility. UNHCR ultimately agreed to a series of conditions from the Libyan government: armed guards within the compound and Interior Ministry militia at the gates, no freedom of movement for the refugees and asylum seekers,
“It’s not the best possible scenario,” acknowledged Jean-Paul Cavalieri, the head of the UNHCR in Libya.
nearly 425 million euros into Libya since 2016 to keep migrants from reaching its shores — money that goes mostly to the U.N. and other aid agencies to improve conditions for migrants and Libyans displaced by the country’s civil war. The U.N. runs a vast operation within Libya, registering 40,000 refugees and asylum seekers, with about 6,000 inside the detention system and the rest ensconced in communities in Tripoli and beyond.
But dependence upon European funding and its increasingly restrictive migration policies have left the U.N. in the uncomfortable position of being the arbiter of horror stories. It is the U.N.’s job to decide who has suffered enough to get a coveted resettlement slot in another country.
Many end up waiting months, sometimes years — often in other detention centers — to find out their fate.