As violence escalates in Libya, the United Nations today said it was deeply concerned for the safety of thousands of refugees and asylum-seekers who are currently stranded in areas heavily damaged by the continuous fighting.
“In Tripoli alone, more than 150 people from Eritrea, Somalia and other countries have phoned our protection hotline seeking help with medicines or a safer place to stay,” UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) spokesperson Ariane Rummery told journalists in Geneva.
“We are also receiving calls from many of the mainly Syrian and Palestinian asylum-seekers and refugees in Benghazi who are in dire need of assistance,” she said, adding that altogether, almost 37,000 people are registered with UNHCR in Tripoli and Benghazi.
She said the security situation is rapidly deteriorating and many see leaving Libya as their only option. Ms. Rummery warned that smugglers thrive amid the growing lawlessness, and thousands of desperate people are taking the dangerous sea journey to Europe.
Recent violence around Tripoli appears to have moved departure points away from the capital, with more boats now leaving from points to the east such as Al-Khums and Benghazi – “a new and more dangerous departure point as it means a longer journey to Italy.”
Some 77,000 are estimated to have already arrived in Italy by boat from Libya so far this year - a substantial spike in departures compared to this time last year.
More than 1,000 people have died in the Mediterranean this year, with the latest 128 casualties drowning last week off Al-Khums, about 100 kilometres east of Tripoli. They held mostly African nationalities and included many women and children. UNHCR is providing medical care and relief items to the 22 survivors of the incident and is continuing to work with its partners on the ground to deliver assistance and advocate on behalf of refugees and asylum-seekers.
Ms. Rummery expressed concern that not all people seeking safety can cross Libya's land borders and urged Libyan authorities to relax exit visa restrictions to allow people to leave.
“We are particularly concerned about the welfare of three Syrians and one Palestinian stranded in the no-man's land between Libya and Egypt. UNHCR is asking Egyptian authorities for access to the group to provide food and water,” she said.
Amidst the ongoing fighting, a newly elected Libyan parliament met for the first time yesterday, in hopes that the political leaders can bring peace and democracy to the North African nation, which has been embroiled in some of the worst fighting since the 2011 uprising that ousted former leader Muammar al-Qadhafi.