Head of IOM asks Libya not to send rescued migrants back to detention

William Lacy Swing, head of IOM, the UN Migration Agency, appealed to the Libyan authorities to stop detaining migrants after they have been intercepted by the Coast Guard after seeking to cross the Mediterranean. IOM also seeks to speed up the process of voluntary return of migrants to their countries of origin.


Facing the press in Tripoli Amb Swing delivered a powerful message about protecting migrants’ rights

“In my meeting with Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj I appealed that migrants brought back to shore or rescued by the Coast Guard not be put into detention centres,” said Amb. Swing “Those who wish to go home should be speedily and voluntarily returned to their countries of origin rather than linger in detention.”

With EU support, Libya has dramatically stepped up its anti-smuggling operations this year. The number of migrants being rescued or intercepted by the Libyan Coast Guard while still in Libya’s territorial waters has greatly increased—to almost 4,000 in the past month alone. Yet, because migrants are then sent into detention in often over-crowded, poorly monitored centres, concerns remain for their welfare.

“I hope that this change of policy will now take place as it seems particularly cruel to send migrants heading to Europe back into detention, especially when it is not necessary,” DG Swing added.

Amb Swing thanked the Prime Minister for considering his proposal to avoid sending migrants back to detention and to set up segregated centers for women and children being detained.

He also thanked the government for establishing a migration working group and attended a meeting of this new body which comprises concerned government ministries and international organizations working in Libya.

On his third visit to Libya since 2017, Swing also requested of the country’s Prime Minister Fayez Mustafa al-Sarraj that separate centres be built for women and children, that put in measures in place to keep families together.

On Swing’s two-day visit to the country, he met with rescued migrants in detention. He also had a round of meetings with government ministers to press his case for easing the detention conditions, and to improve access to migrants for IOM’s more than 260 staff who operate across the country. Swing also met with EU and other UN representatives and accredited diplomats who are concerned with the political impact and the great human suffering that results from migrants being smuggled to Europe.

Although Libya’s oil economy is much diminished, the country attracts migrants from across sub-Saharan Africa and Asia, either those looking for jobs or seeking to be smuggled into Europe.

The numbers of migrants who arrived in Europe via Libya this year is down significantly down (some 16,700 compared to over 85,000 during the first half of last year). At the same time over 1,000 migrants have drowned tragically while attempting to make the crossing to Europe this year. Since mid-June an estimated 489 migrants drowned in a series of tragedies just offshore.

Amb. Swing visited Tajura detention centre where most of those rescued over the weekend are being held. He spoke with several detainees and observed the conditions

One 25 year-old-man from West Africa, who was rescued at sea on Sunday, lost his wife and three children when their overcrowded craft capsized. The man had spent several years working a as a barber in Libya but decided to try to flee to Europe after he was kidnapped and threatened, he told IOM protection staff.

At the centre two distraught orphaned children, aged 12 and 8, from Sierra Leone approached Amb Swing with tears streaming down their faces. The older girl recounted how their mother had died leaving them to fend for themselves in Libya. IOM staff have contacted family members and are seeking to reunite the children with them.

Swing made repeated calls for leniency towards the migrants while praising the lifesaving actions of the Coast Guard.

It was Amb. Swing’s third visit to Libya since 2016 and he was the first senior official to visit Libya since the fall of Gadaffi in 2011. The oil-rich country has long depended on the skills of migrants to keep its economy going, although many migrants seeking passage to Europe can be terribly exploited.

Seventeen detention centres scattered around Libya remain operational, down from 54 last year. There is government oversight in some of them, but it is far from comprehensive. In some centres human rights abuses of migrants are reported.

Over 200 Migrants Drown in Three Days in Mediterranean — Death Toll for 2018 Passes 1,000


Rescued migrants being tended to by IOM staff in Tripoli. Photo: IOM

Some 204 migrants have died at sea off Libya this weekend, , pushing the total number of migrant drownings in the entire Mediterranean so far this year to over 1,000 people.

On Sunday 1st July, 2018, a small rubber boat packed with migrants capsized off AlKhums, east of Tripoli, with an estimated 41 people surviving after rescue. On Friday (28/06), three babies were among the 103, who died in a shipwreck similar to Sunday’s incident, also caused by smugglers taking migrants to sea in completely unsafe vessels.

So far this year, the Libyan Coast Guard has returned some 10,000 people to shore from small vessels.

“I am traveling to Tripoli once again this week and will see firsthand the conditions of migrants who have been rescued as well as those returned to shore by the Libya Coast Guard,” said William Lacy Swing, IOM Director General. “IOM is determined to ensure that the human rights of all migrants are respected as together we all make efforts to stop the people smuggling trade, which is so exploitative of migrants,” said Swing.

IOM staff were deployed to provide support and first aid to the the 41 migrants who survived the capsize of their small rubber vessel that capsized off AlKhums. This is the second major shipwreck in as many few days. On Friday, a rubber dinghy capsized north of Tripoli and the 16 survivors (young men from Gambia, Sudan, Yemen, Niger and Guinea) were rescued by the Libyan Cost Guard. However, an estimated 103 people lost their lives.

Adding to grim and tragic scene, the bodies of three babies were taken from the sea by the Libyan Coast Guard. IOM provided assistance at the disembarkation point, including provision of food and water and health assistance. IOM is also in the process of providing psychosocial aid at Tajoura detention centre where the survivors have been transferred. The need for physcosocial support is high as the survivors spent traumatizing time in the water as their engine broke only 30 minutes after departing Garaboli. The survivors have received psychosocial first aid at the detention centre and IOM continues to monitor their condition.

From Friday to Sunday, close to 1,000 migrants were returned to Libyan shore by the Libyan Coast Guard, who intercepted small crafts as they made their way towards the open sea. Upon disembarkation to shore, migrants have received emergency direct assistance, including food and water, health assistance and IOM protection staff has provided vulnerability interviews. Those rescued and returned by the Libyan Coast Guard are transferred by the Libyan authorities to the detention centres where IOM continues humanitarian assistance.

“There is an alarming increase in deaths at sea off Libya Coast,” said IOM Libya Chief of Mission Othman Belbeisi, adding: “Smugglers are exploiting the desperation of migrants to leave before there are further crackdowns on Mediterranean crossings by Europe.”

“Migrants returned by the coast guard should not automatically be transferred to detention and we are deeply concerned that the detention centres will yet again be overcrowded and that living conditions will deteriorate with the recent influx of migrants,” added Belbeisi.

Two other search and rescue operations by the Libyan Coast Guard are currently ongoing.

National conversation reveals Libyans’ desire for ‘united and sovereign nation’: UN representative

Conversations taking place across Libya indicate that citizens are “yearning for a united and sovereign nation,” the top United Nations official in the country told the Security Council in New York on Monday.

UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe Ghassan Salamé, Special Representative and Head of the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) briefing the Security Council on the situation in Libya on 21 May 2018.

UN Special Representative Ghassan Salamé updated ambassadors on the National Conference which was launched in April, as a way of giving all Libyans a say in responding to the country’s on-going crisis. So far it has been convened in 27 different locations.

It is part of a UN Action Plan that provides for amending the Libyan Political Agreement; the stalled 2015 deal aimed at establishing a single national unity government, among other points.

Mr. Salamé reported that the process has drawn thousands of participants.

“Libyans from all political stripes and segments of society gathered to enter the political conversation, many for the first time with an enthusiasm that could not have been predicted,” he said, speaking via teleconference.

“They have made it their own.”

While elections must be held as soon as possible, the proper conditions must be in place – Ghassan Salamé (UNSMIL) 

The National Conference will run through June and is expected to take place in more than 40 locations overall, including Libyan communities based overseas.

Special events focusing on the concerns of women, youth and internally displaced persons will also be held.

Mr. Salamé said some points of consensus have emerged which show why advancement of the political process is “so vital.”

They include “a yearning for a united and sovereign nation and a common belief that, to achieve that, the state must be more decentralized.”

The UN Action Plan also calls for the preparation of elections and the National Conference has revealed that Libyans want a vote which can unite the country, as well as the means to emerge successfully from transition.

“While elections must be held as soon as possible, the proper conditions must be in place,” Mr. Salamé said, underscoring the need for a new round of voter registration; prior commitment to accepting the results; as well as sufficient funding and security arrangements.

Regarding the amending of the Libyan Political Agreement, the UN envoy said despite attempts to “reconcile various opinions,” parties are unwilling to make concessions.

“By focusing on elections this year, amending the LPA rapidly shrinks in importance,” he stated. “However, we must demand far more from the current Presidential Council in their final remaining months, both in terms of concretely preparing for the elections, and providing services to the people.”

Mr. Salamé also briefed Council members on a new UN strategy to help Libya deal with armed groups who continue to have what he has described as a “perilous” influence on politics and the economy.

It involves direct engagement with these groups, in close consultation with the government.

While the strategy “will not unravel armed groups tomorrow”, he said it “will help the long process begin in earnest.”


Voluntary Humanitarian Returns from Libya Continue as Reintegration Efforts Step Up

IOM, the UN Migration Agency, announced today (13/03) that it has assisted 10,171 migrants to return home safely from Libya with support from the European Union, African Union, and the Libyan Government since the scale up of Voluntary Humanitarian Return (VHR) from the country started on 28 November last year.


IOM has helped thousands of detained migrants to return home from Libya © IOM

Another 5,200 migrants have returned with the support of African Union member states in the same period. Some 23,302 migrants have returned through IOM’s VHR programme since January 2017.

“We are continuing to assist migrants inside Libyan detention centres, while increasing efforts to reach stranded migrants outside of detention,” said Othman Belbeisi, IOM Libya Chief of Mission.

“Since the expansion of our VHR operation, the number of migrants in official detention centres have dropped from an estimated 20,000 people in October 2017 to 4,000 people today, a five-fold decrease. IOM in Libya is also working with the authorities to register migrants, provide lifesaving assistance in the form of health care and essential aid items, psychosocial support, improve consular services and projects promoting community stabilization,” said Belbeisi.

Nearly half of voluntary humanitarian returns carried out by IOM from Libya are part of a larger EU-IOM initiative to protect and assist migrants in need not only in Libya but in 26 countries along the Central Mediterranean Route. This includes crucial support for reintegration of returnees in countries of origin.

Launched in December 2016, with additional funding from Germany and Italy through the European Union Emergency Trust Fund for Africa (EUTF), the EU-IOM Joint Initiative on Migrant Protection and Reintegration is active in Libya and countries in North Africa, the Sahel and Lake Chad region, and the Horn of Africa.

Together with its partners, IOM has been scaling up activities in countries of origin to meet the surge in returns from Libya and ensure that returning migrants receive appropriate assistance upon arrival as well as longer-term support to adjust to life and re-establish themselves in their communities.  Reintegration assistance is also available through the programme for those assisted to return from European Union member states.

IOM Regional Director for the EU, Eugenio Ambrosi, said that the huge protection needs and the scale of returns in the last few months under the VHR operation have overtaken initial planning and pose some additional challenges for countries of origin.  He cautioned that the reintegration process is complex and requires time.

“We are embarking on a completely new approach to reintegration and we believe in it. It will take some time to build, and in cooperation with authorities in countries of origin and the local communities, we are already seeing promising developments,” said Ambrosi.

“The Joint Initiative, in partnership with the governments of countries of origin and the African Union, aims to make sure that the migration process is safer, and that returning migrants can get back to their countries of origin safely and re-establish their lives without the feeling that they are a burden for their communities and families,” said IOM Regional Director for West Africa, Richard Danziger.

He cautioned, however, that many returnees from Libya are traumatized after having suffered unspeakable abuses, and so their immediate medical and psychosocial needs have taken priority.

The new, integrated approach to reintegration combines support for returning migrants and their home communities. It aims to mitigate possible tensions at home for returnees by involving local communities in the reintegration process and raising awareness to address potential stigma of return. For this reason, capacity building, systems strengthening, social, psychosocial, and community-based aspects are being built into the programme.

UN Migration Agency Assists Survivors as Migrants Perish in Libya Truck Accident

At nearly 3:00am on 14 February, a truck accident occurred, leaving 19 people dead and 49 people injured near Bani Waleed in Libya. The migrants on board reported that 180 people were crammed into the truck’s cargo containers.


Libyan medical staffers tend to an African migrant that was injured after their vehicle was overturned during a truck collision near the town of Beni Walid. : Photo credit: Arab News

They also said that the smugglers’ truck crashed when it drove into a large hole in the road; overloaded with people, it became unbalanced. Out of the total migrants involved, approximately 138 were Eritrean, while the remaining were Somali and Ethiopian.

The area where the incident took place was 60 kilometres south-east of Bani Waleed, a transit location on a much-used migration route through the country to the coast. The smugglers were transporting the group of migrants from As Saddadah to Tarhuna.

Of the 19 reported victims, four were children, one was an adult woman and 14 were adult men. The wounded are reportedly to include ten children, nine adult women and 30 men.

IOM staff living in the area went to the scene to see what assistance could be provided. They helped transport some of the injured migrants to the local hospital. Two IOM doctors travelled to the hospital to support the emergency medical response. Together with the hospital staff, they assessed the cases, four of which IOM organized to be transferred to Tripoli due to the serious nature of their head injuries. All four are in critical condition in intensive care units. IOM is supporting the hospitals where they there transferred to with medical supplies.

There are six more cases in Bani Waleed hospital requiring referral to Tripoli. All of them have multiple injuries and some serious fractures requiring immediate surgery. Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) is working on these transferals.

Many of the migrants, who were involved the accident are reported to have been taken by the smugglers to an unknown location.

“Our priority needs to be protecting these migrants and others throughout the country, while making migration through Libya safe and regular,” said Othman Belbesi, IOM Libya Chief of Mission. “One death whether in the desert or at sea is one too many,” said Belbesi.

According to IOM’s Displacement Tracking Matrix (DTM) report last December, there were over 621,000 migrants recorded in Libya but the true figure is estimated to be over 700,000, with the majority coming from Egypt, Niger, and Chad.

Many migrants in Libya have faced ill-treatment and exploitation. IOM’s top priorities continue to be saving migrant lives, reducing irregular and unsafe movements of people along the central Mediterranean route, breaking the grip of traffickers and smugglers, identifying vulnerable persons and persons at risk throughout the migration process and assisting them, and improving conditions for migrants stranded in Libya.

IOM provides humanitarian support to migrants in Libya, while advocating for improved longer term assistance and protection for them and all groups in the country.

90 Migrants Reportedly Drown as Bodies Wash Up on Libyan Shores

Warning: this story gets  graphic images:

An estimated 90-100 migrants are reported to have been on board a boat, when it capsized off the coast of Libya on Thursday evening (01/02).

According to IOM Libya’s Olivia Headon, 10 bodies are reported to have washed up on Libyan shores –  one Libyan woman and reportedly some Pakistani nationals. Two survivors are reported to have swam to shore, while another was rescued by a fishing boat, Headon said. IOM is working to get more details of the tragedy and to see how best to assist survivors, she continued.

libyamigrants1-articleLargeIn 2017, the 3,138 Pakistani migrants arriving by sea to Italy from Libya were 13th in the overall list of migrant arrivals (119,369). This year though, they already are the third highest nationality so far, with an estimated 240 reaching Italy in January. In comparison, only nine Pakistanis arrived in Italy by sea in January 2017. According to IOM’s Missing Migrants project (MMP), there were no confirmed deaths of Pakistani or Libyan nationals in the Mediterranean in 2017. In 2016, MMP recorded that 8 Pakistani nationals went missing in the Eastern Mediterranean in a shipwreck on 14 March 2016 near Kos, Greece.

This latest tragedy comes as IOM, the UN Migration Agency, reports that 6,624 migrants and refugees had entered Europe by sea through 28 January. This compares with 5,983 coming ashore during a similar period in 2017. Italy accounts for approximately 64 per cent of the total, with the remainder split between Spain (19 per cent) and Greece (16 per cent).

IOM Rome reported Thursday (01/02) that survivors of a shipwreck that occurred last weekend arrived Tuesday in Augusta, Sicily. According to testimony gathered by IOM staff at their landing point, the total number of victims may be between 32 and 37, in addition to at least three deaths confirmed from the incident.

IOM’s Flavio Di Giacomo reported the migrants left Zuwara, Libya, on Saturday at around midnight, on a dinghy carrying about 130–135 people. On Sunday morning their boat started to take on water. The ship Aquarius arrived in time to save 96 people, as well as to recover the remains of two passengers, both mothers who left children among the survivors.

Additional reporting by IOM’s Missing Migrants Project (MMP) indicates that even before the SOS Méditerranée’s vessel recovered those remains off the coast of Libya, 11 more migrants had already been evacuated to the nearest hospital – in Sfax, Tunisia – by an Italian Navy Helicopter. One of those 11, a woman, died upon arrival.

These casualties bring to 246 the total number of fatalities on the Mediterranean Sea through the first month of 2018. That compares with 254 at this time in 2017.

IOM Libya’s Olivia Headon reported that 252 migrants were returned to Libyan shores on Wednesday (31 January). Some 226 men, 19 women – four of them pregnant – and 7 children had been aboard two rubber dinghies headed for Europe, she explained.

“IOM provided food and water to the group when they were back on land and treated those in need of emergency medical assistance,” Headon added. “IOM will follow up on each individual case to see what further assistance and protection can be provided.”

Headon also reported that a separate group, this one consisting of 23 migrants, was being returned to Libya on Thursday (01/02) afternoon. One child was in the group, as well as two pregnant women, one of whom is likely to give birth in the coming days, said Headon.

The 246 deaths this month – the second deadliest on the Mediterranean since June 2017 – points to the randomness of danger along this busy migration corridor. The previous month (December 2017), when 23 deaths were recorded, was the least lethal of any recorded by IOM since January 2014, while the normally busy months of July, August, September and October last year all recorded fatalities below 200 each.

“Of course, there is no way to predict the number of deaths we record – almost all migrants who die in the Mediterranean are victims of chance,” said Julia Black, coordinator of IOM’s Missing Migrants Project, “but it is heart-breaking that so often dozens, sometimes hundreds of deaths occur in a single day. While the deaths of these migrants are unpredictable, there is an undeniable trend of tragedy in the Mediterranean.”

The Missing Migrants Project has recorded more than 3,000 migrant deaths in the Mediterranean each year since 2014. Black added that the 28 deaths recorded in January off Spain were the same number recorded in that region in January 2017. Not a single death was recorded in Greek waters so far this year, while only one was confirmed a year ago on that route (see chart below).

Casualties in the Eastern Mediterranean have dropped sharply along with the fall in arrivals. In the 22 months between April 2016 and January 2018 fatalities on the route have fallen to 6.75 per month, from 96.25 per month during the 12 months between April 2015 and March 2016.

Chairperson of the Commission of the African Union receives the United Nations Special Representative for Libya

The Chairperson of the African Union Commission, Moussa Faki Mahamat, received the Special Representatives of the United Nations Secretary-General and Head of the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL), Ghassan Salame, at the African Union Headquarters in Addis Ababa on 15 January 2018.


Moussa Faki Mahamat, Chairperson of the African Union Commission

The meeting provided an opportunity to exchange on the situation in Libya and means by which the partnership can be further strengthened in order to address the prevailing crisis in the country. Both the Chairperson of the Commission and the Special Representative underscored that a coordinated approach between the two organizations is vital in finding lasting peace in Libya.

Both agreed that the two organisations shall work together to facilitate building of a consensus among Libyans, in order to unify the Libyan institutions, form an inclusive national government and hold free and fair elections in the country. In so doing, the African Union and the United Nations shall act in pursuance of the relevant decisions of the Security Council and the Peace and Security Council and build on the African Union Roadmap, adopted by the AU High Level Committee on Libya, at its 4th meeting, held in Brazzaville, on 9 September 2017, and the United Nations Action Plan adopted at the High-Level Meeting on Libya, convened by the United Nations Secretary-General, in New York on 21 Sept 2017.

It should be noted that the Special Representative also met with the African Union Commissioners for Peace and Security, Political Affairs and Social Affairs in the course of which a range of issues were discussed, including efforts to address the plight of African migrants in Libya.