The Libyan Refugee Crisis
Blogging around the campaigns – NCADC volunteers explore some of the latest issue affecting migrant rights
David Shortland, NCADC Campaigns Volunteer
As the conflict in Libya rages on, the number of refugees produced has steadily increased. The UNHCR has called on the international community to step up to the mark by supporting the massive evacuation effort and providing asylum to the displaced, now numbering over 300,000 (UNHCR).
On 1st March 2011, Libya was suspended from the Human Rights Council – the first time this mechanism has been employed. The Security Council has imposed an arms embargo and a travel ban, has frozen the assets of Gaddafi and his top officials and has referred the situation to the International Criminal Court (Guardian). Security Council Resolution 1973 has condemned “the gross and systematic violation of human rights, including arbitrary detentions, enforced disappearances, torture and summary executions” and expressed “its determination to ensure the protection of civilians” (Guardian). The reaction of the international community to this dire situation has been overwhelming and unprecedented in recent times. Without widespread and effective dedication to providing refuge to those directly affected by the situation, however, all the talk of concern for the Libyan people will seem impotent and superficial.
A crucial aspect of the international response must be in supporting the work of the UNHCR. Although the agency has been expelled from Libya, after claims by authorities that its work in the country was illegal (Times), it has established a vital presence in Tunisia and Egypt to provide protection for refugees at the borders. However, the UNHCR is concerned that many people attempting to leave Libya are being trapped by the conflict. The agency reported on 15th March 2011 that “people needing to flee combat areas and seek refuge are either unable to go or being prevented from doing so” (UN). Internal displacement has also become rife. Nevertheless, UNHCR has been working tirelessly to provide shelter for many thousands of refugees. Amnesty International has reported that there are approximately 8,000 refugees and more than 3,000 asylum-seekers currently known to the UNHCR as being in urgent need of international protection. Amnesty point out that “the EU, in particular, bears a heavy responsibility on account of its failure in recent years to acknowledge and take into account Libya’s dire human rights record, and because of its efforts to seek the Libyan government’s collaboration in controlling migration to Europe” (Amnesty).
Caught in the middle of these events are the thousands of migrant workers in Libya, stuck and totally unprotected. Development organisation BRAC has called for urgent support for the tens of thousands of displaced, internally or as refugees, Bangladeshi workers affected by the conflict. Out of the 70,000 Bangladeshi migrant workers in Libya before the violence began, by 19th March only around 20,000 have made it home. BRAC President Susan Davis said, “Donor support is urgently needed for these displaced migrant workers. The trauma they have experienced in the last few weeks may only be the beginning for some who face financial quicksand upon their return.” (PRWeb)
UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres has also outlined the grave danger in which sub-Saharan African migrants have found themselves. Many have been targeted by rebels as potential pro-Gaddafi mercenaries and have suffered brutal attacks. He told Al Jazeera, “There are hundreds of thousands of African workers in Libya and very few have shown up at the borders.” (Reuters) Guterres has also asked for international assistance with evacuation of foreign nationals stuck at the Tunisia-Libya border. He said, “These measures can only be taken with the strong solidarity of the international community and I would hope that countries would make their own resources available in order to allow for a massive evacuation to take place out of Tunisia.” (UNHCR) There has been some very successful subsequent cooperation in this area which has helped to ease the scale of the overcrowding at the border. The UNHCR is bracing itself, however, for a worsening situation. Together with its partners it is planning for a massive outflow: “The plans are preparing for different scenarios and possible population influxes of 40,000 – 250,000 into Tunisia and 50,000 – 600,000 into Egypt, pending on future developments inside Libya.” (UNHCR)
The UK was one of the ten states that voted for the UN Security Council Resolution 1973 on the situation in Libya and has taken a major role in the military intervention. Prime Minister David Cameron proclaimed, in the days leading up to the intervention, that the people of Libya must not be left to their terrible fate . It is now for the UK government to follow through on its commitment to Libya’s population by providing substantial support for the evacuation and protection of refugees. The scale of this exodus requires that the international community commit substantial financial support to the protection efforts in these countries and, of course, be ready to accept and protect asylum seekers. This will be a serious test of the UK government’s approach to refugee issues. We are all too aware of its attitude towards asylum seekers in our own country, but with such urgent and large-scale action required, we must push for far more than stirring speeches and declarations of solidarity.
Please write to your MP on this issue. We must encourage our representatives to push for strong supportive policy for the sake of Libyan refugees.
You can download the model letter here.
Find your MP and send them an e-mail here.