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UNHCR: Libya must release detained refugees

Lewis Sanders IV
May 21, 2017

Thousands of people fleeing conflict and persecution have been detained by Libyan authorities. The UN refugee agency's chief has called for them to be freed as the agency boosts its presence in the North African country.

Libyen Falle für Flüchtlinge
Image: picture alliance/AP Photo/D. Etter

Filippo Grandi, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, on Sunday called on Libyan authorities to release asylum seekers and refugees held in detention centers, saying he was "shocked" by conditions at the facilities.

During his trip to the Libyan capital Tripoli, Grandi visited detention centers where thousands of refugees and asylum seekers have been held, many of them for attempting to cross the central Mediterranean on their journey to Europe.

"I was shocked at the harsh conditions in which refugees and migrants are held, generally due to lack of resources," Grandi said in a statement. "Children, women and men who have suffered so much already should not have to endure such hardship."

Over the past two years, the UNHCR has managed to secure the release of more than 800 refugees detained by Libyan authorities, according to the UN agency.

Humanitarian crisis

According to the UN refugee agency, more than 1.3 million people need urgent humanitarian assistance, including internally-displaced people, migrants and asylum seekers.

Since 2011, approximately 300,000 Libyans have been displaced by civil conflict that engulfed the country in the run up to late dictator Moammar Gadhafi's violent overthrow and consequent assassination.

The conflict has plunged the country into chaos, with rival authorities, local militias and militant groups fighting for control in the oil-rich nation.

Human traffickers have capitalized on the instability by taking advantage of migrants and asylum seekers attempting to reach European shores.

'Constant challenge'

The UNHCR has vowed to bolster its presence in the North African country in a bid to tackle the ensuing humanitarian crisis. However, Grandi said solutions will not be easy.

"We should not underestimate the challenges of operating in an unstable and volatile environment such as Libya today," Grandi said. "Our ability to access and effectively deliver much needed protection and assistance is a constant challenge."

More than 1,300 migrants have been killed crossing the Mediterranean to Europe. The UNHCR has described Libya as the "main departing point" for migrants fleeing conflict, poverty and persecution.