GENEVA – The U.N. refugee agency warns thousands of refugees and migrants detained in sub-standard facilities in Libya are threatened by COVID-19 and the ongoing conflict in the country, and should be released.
The warning comes as a military offensive launched by renegade commander Khalifa Haftar in the Libyan capital Tripoli a year ago continues unabated despite the threats posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The U.N. refugee agency reports more than 300 civilians have been killed and 150,000 others displaced by the fighting.
In addition to this threat, the UNHCR says Libyan authorities have confirmed 10 cases of COVID-19 and one death.
UNHCR spokesman Babar Balloch says the country’s weakened health services are unable to adequately respond to this pandemic.
“The ongoing conflict has severely impacted the country’s health system and medical services, which have limited financial resources and face shortages of basic equipment and medicines. Many hospitals or health facilities, located in the areas close to the conflict, have also been damaged or closed,” he said.
Balloch said daily life is becoming increasingly difficult for people across conflict-torn Libya. He said they have difficulty accessing basic goods and services, and finding work. He said house rentals, food and fuel prices are soaring, making them unaffordable for many. But he noted those most at risk in this unstable, war-torn society are the thousands of asylum seekers and refugees held in detention. He says the UNHCR and other agencies are calling for their orderly release.
“Asylum seekers and refugees, held in detention because they do not have legal documentation, are particularly vulnerable and exposed, given often poor sanitation facilities, limited health services and overcrowded conditions. Many detention centers are also located in areas close to the fighting frontlines,” he said.
Balloch said the UNHCR continues to provide protection and assistance to refugees, asylum seekers, forcibly displaced Libyans and returnees. But he added deteriorating conditions and lack of security in the country are hampering the delivery of aid to those in need.