5 February 2021 — Tom Garofalo, the International Rescue Committee’s Country Director for Libya, said:
"In the past 2 days, we have seen a worrying spike in the number of people attempting the treacherous journey to Europe from Libya. At least 1,200 people have left the country in flimsy, overcrowded rafts, so desperate to reach safety that they’ve been willing to risk their own lives, and those of their children, on the world’s most dangerous sea crossing.
“Over 800 of those who’ve attempted this journey have been brought back by the Libyan Coast Guard so far, and our teams are currently on standby to provide emergency medical care for four more boats carrying at least 247 more survivors - including three children, at least one of whom had hypothermia - as well as the bodies of two men who tragically didn’t survive. In just the last 48 hours we've carried out three emergency responses - tonight's will make that seven in less than three days.
“All those disembarked so far have been sent to detention centres, a practice that has to stop. The majority of those returned have been trafficked, beaten, exploited and abused - both in Libya, and on their journey to get there. They need support, and they will get very little of this in detention centres. Viable alternatives to arbitrary detention need to be found, and the safety and protection of all those currently being detained must be assured. But equally, people will not stop searching for a better life. To prevent further deaths and detentions, it is vital that the EU re-establishes search and rescue operations in the Mediterranean, and that Member States work towards establishing safe, legal routes to Europe. Libya is not a safe country for people to be returned to. The EU needs to review its support to the Libyan Coast Guard, and cease all actions that trap people in a country where their lives are in such grave danger."
About the IRC in Libya
Since August 2016, the IRC has provided emergency and reproductive health services in western Libya. The IRC is one of the few international organizations with a direct presence in Libya with two offices in Tripoli and Misrata. The IRC is supporting the Libyan COVID-19 response with training of front-line health workers and the provision of additional isolation units. Our health staff are part of the five Rapid Response Teams the Ministry of Health has created to carry out initial assessments of suspected cases and tracing of their contacts. With most public health facilities closed in Tripoli and Misrata due to a lack of capacity, our mobile support to the Ministry of Health is proving vital in reaching vulnerable communities in this response.
Throughout the COVID-19 outbreak in Libya, the IRC has been permitted access to provide basic health care and protection services in a limited number of Libya’s detention centres, as well as health and protection assistance at three disembarkation points in the west of Libya, where we assist migrants - including refugees - with the provision of lifesaving medical care. The IRC has also continued working in Misrata, where we assist with the provision of healthcare and protection services, including psychosocial support and activities for refugees waiting to be relocated to Niger/Rwanda via the Emergency Transit Mechanism (ETM). Our focus across all our work is on: providing critical healthcare in hard to reach places in western Libya; providing life-saving medicines to primary health clinics, where possible; providing a referral pathway for patients in urgent need; renovating primary health clinics which have been damaged during the conflict; deploying experienced social workers to provide case management and psychosocial support in communities impacted by the conflict.