This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Shabia Mantoo – to whom quoted text may be attributed – at today’s press briefing at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.
UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, is troubled by reports the use of force against protesting asylum seekers last week in Sikka detention centre in Libya. The protests have been driven by frustration and anxiety among asylum-seekers who have been detained in extremely dire conditions for months with no prospects of solutions. Around 50 people were reportedly injured when the police moved in to end the protest. Two individuals were badly injured and transferred to Abu Slim hospital.
UNHCR is also aware that following the last week’s protests some 120 people were transferred from Sikka detention centre to Ain Zara and Sabhaa detention centres.
It is estimated that at the time of the incident more than 400 asylum-seekers were held in Sikka detention centre. All are registered with UNHCR, except for 20 individuals who had just arrived to the centre. The group includes 200 Eritreans, 100 Somalis, 53 Ethiopians and 20 Sudanese nationals.
UNHCR has raised concern with the authorities about this incident. To date, UNHCR has had no access to those affected by the incident in Sikka. However, we did access Sikka detention centre on Sunday but solely for the purpose of transfer of individuals to the Gathering and Departure Facility (GDF) for evacuation.
UNHCR is concerned about the situation of prolonged detention that many refugees are facing in Libya. Currently, there are 5,700 refugees and migrants in detention, of whom 4,100 are assessed to be of concern to UNHCR and may have international protection needs.
UNHCR reiterates its calls for an end to detention in Libya and stands ready to support Libyan authorities to find alternatives to detention.
Last December, UNHCR opened a Gathering and Departure Facility in Tripoli, in cooperation with the Ministry of Interior to speed-up the processing for solutions and provide an alternative to detention. However, with a reduced number of resettlement slots, many refugees may continue to linger in detention indefinitely.
Yesterday (4 March), UNHCR evacuated 128 refugees to Niger. This was the third evacuation out of Libya this year, bringing the total of those evacuated out of Libya to 3,303.
UNHCR is reaffirming its calls on the international community for additional solutions for refugees in detention.