Amid surging violence in Libya, UN warns of potential displacement crisis

A group of Tawerghan men displaced after the fighting in Libya in 2011. UNHCR is concerned about the situation of some 2,500 Tawerghans who fled their camp in Benghazi in mid-October 2014 to escape fighting. Photo: UNHCR/L. Dobbs

14 November 2014 – In the wake of car bombings in Tripoli and deadly clashes between rival armed groups in cities across long-troubled Libya, the United Nations human rights office today voiced alarm over escalating violence in the long-troubled country, while the Organization’s refugee agency warned that mounting insecurity is taking a toll on humanitarian operations.

The wider United Nations again today turned the international spotlight on the deteriorating situation, following statements from the Security Council and UN Support Mission in the country (UNSMIL) strongly condemning the car bombings yesterday morning in Tripoli of the embassies of Egypt and the United Arab Emirates.

In a press briefing in Geneva earlier today, a spokesperson for the UN Human Rights Office (OHCHR) said the Office is alarmed by reports of increased human rights abuses, beheadings of activists and the recent closure of Libya’s national human rights institution in Tripoli.

“The dramatic increase in use of car bombs in the last few days, with civilians the main victims, illustrates the rapidly deteriorating security and human rights situation in the country,” said spokesperson Rupert Colville.

In the past week alone, there were two explosions in Shahhat, three each in Tobruk, al-Baida and Benghazi, and two in Tripoli, causing several deaths and injuries.

OHCHR is also concerned about the “continuing threats, intimidation and other repressive measures” being taken against Libya’s national human rights institution, the National Council of Civil Liberties and Human Rights.

Mr. Colville recounted that, in mid-October, a group of armed men had visited the Council, and demanded the hand-over of keys to the premises and the organization’s official stamps. In a separate incident, armed men also sought to question a number of senior Council members, including the current General Secretary, while on 21 October, when UN human rights officers visited the building during a visit to Tripoli, they found it deserted.

On 9 November, armed men in military uniform arrived at the Council, led by a man known for his support for Operation Libya Dawn, the spokesperson said. According to an eyewitness, the group locked the building and told passers-by that the Council was being shut down by Libya Dawn, and anybody attempting to re-open the Council would be arrested.

“We urge those in control of Tripoli to ensure that the office premises of the Council are immediately re-opened and that this key institution is allowed to resume its work without any form of intimidation or obstruction,” Mr. Colville said.

Stressing the importance of allowing the Council to function “smoothly and independently at a time when Libyans are facing serious human rights violations,” the spokesperson also noted that the need for independent monitoring in the country is “critical.”

In related news, a spokesperson for the UN refugee agency (UNHCR), briefing on the situation in the east, south and west of Libya, warned that intense fighting among rival armed groups in the eastern towns of Benghazi and Derna, as well as in the country’s southeast at Ubari and in the west at Kikla, is fuelling a “displacement crisis.”

At least 106,420 people had fled their homes in the past month alone, meaning that displacement amid the violence since May now exceeds 393,400 people, said the spokesperson, Adrian Edwards.

Meanwhile, the insecurity is hampering humanitarian operations, with aid agencies still trying to accurately calculate the scale of internal displacement, UNHCR said in a press release today.

Specifically, UNHCR has confirmed reports from its non-governmental organization partners that 56,500 people have fled Benghazi in the past few weeks, including 2,500 Tawerghans who had previously sought shelter there after earlier waves of violence in 2011.

Still more people have fled from Derna, although UNHCR cannot yet confirm how many. Local crisis committees in the south-east of the country confirmed some 11,280 people have fled fighting in Ubari, while in the west civilian groups reported 38,640 people have been displaced by fighting in Kikla, including many women and children, Mr. Edwards said.

He noted that the displaced are scattered across 35 towns and cities, and are in dire need of shelter, health care, food, water and other basic commodities.

The fighting has been fiercest in Benghazi, from where people have fled to the nearby towns of Al Marj, Ajdabiya, Al Bayda, and Misrata, Mr. Edwards said.

“These towns are now reaching the limits of what they can do to help the displaced,” the spokesperson said.

In particular, Al Marj has had to close its schools to accommodate people unable to stay with host families. Al Bayda and Tobruk are also straining to house the rising tide of displaced people seeking shelter there, from Derna as well as Benghazi. Schools in Tobruk will also be closed so they can host the displaced people, Mr. Edwards added.

Moreover, the situation of some 2,500 Tawerghans who fled their camp in Benghazi in mid-October is of particular concern to UNHCR, as they are now staying in parks, schools and parking lots in Ajdabiya and neighbouring towns, with only thin plastic sheets and some tents for cover, Mr. Edwards said.

While UNHCR and its partners delivered aid to some 19,000 displaced people through cross-border aid convoys – the only way to get in supplies – in August and September, funding and access are constraints, the spokesperson said.

UNHCR is also concerned about the welfare of some 14,000 of the 37,000 registered refugees and asylum-seekers in Libya, almost half of whom are from Syria, who are stranded in conflict zones or unable to provide food for themselves and their families. Many of those people have irregularly departed by boats to Europe and, so far this year, more than 156,000 have arrived in Italy – more than 85 per cent departing from Libya, Mr. Edwards said.

Mr. Edwards added that UNHCR released yesterday its latest position paper on returns to Libya. The paper calls on all countries to allow civilians fleeing Libya access to their territories, and urges all States to suspend forcible returns to the country until the security and human rights situation has improved considerably.


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