Riots and hunger strikes have broken out in refugee detainment centers in Libya as conditions there have deteriorated, according to a report from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
The UNHCR characterized the incidents as “serious” and said staff members were placed at physical risk.
Riots and hunger strikes have taken place in several different detainment centers, Paula Barrachina Esteban, a senior UNHCR official based in Tripoli told The Globe Post. She could not confirm the number of people taking part in these incidents but said the behavior is not generalized.
In recent weeks, the organization has observed a “critical worsening” in conditions in detention centers due to overcrowding and “extremely dire” living conditions, the report stated. Refugees participating in riots and hunger strikes are “demanding a resolution to their bleak living conditions.”
The detention centers are run by Libya’s internationally recognized government in Tripoli. They hold migrants who are rounded up by officials on land or intercepted by Libya’s European Union-backed coastguard at sea.
As a “matter of principle,” the UNHCR opposes the detention of refugees and asylum seekers. The organization has called on the international community to do more to solve the situation, which it’s deemed a “humanitarian crisis.”
Though Libya’s detained migrants come from many different backgrounds, they all share a sense of desperation, Esteban said, that led them to “embark on perilous journeys across the Sahara Desert and the Mediterranean Sea.”
Those who endure the relentless heat of the Sahara and brave the waters of the Mediterranean – often in boats unfit for sea – invariably come from places plagued by different degrees of extreme poverty and war.
Before being overthrown and killed by a Western-backed revolution in 2011, Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi received compensation from the European Union to prevent migrants from washing ashore in Europe. Over a 20 year span, Gaddafi received $5 billion in European compensation for his services.
But after his fall, the country has become a failed state and the central government has struggled to maintain control over its 1,100-mile coastline.
For those detained Libya, the UNHCR said the situation remains bleak because of a lack of feasible solutions.
Twelve countries – Belgium, Canada, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Malta, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom – have agreed to resettle small numbers of detained refugees. The United States has refused to accept any.
Esteban said the commitments from the international community are inadequate and called on all countries to provide legal pathways for Libya’s refugees. She also said long-term solutions will require addressing the root causes of forced displacement.