Desperate African refugees pay to get into Libyan jails – UNHCR


]African refugees in Libya are so desperate some bribe their way into detention centres in the hope of being resettled out of the war-torn, lawless country, the United Nations said.

Forces loyal to eastern-based commander Khalifa Haftar launched an offensive in April to wrest control of Tripoli from forces aligned with the internationally-recognised government, based in the capital.

An air strike by opposition forces in July killed more than 50 people at Tajoura detention centre in Tripoli and increased pressure on countries to find a safe haven for trapped refugees and migrants.

Despite continuing shelling and air attacks – fighting has killed more than 1 000 and displaced 28,000 since April – few countries agreed to take refugees from Libya, the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) said.

“So far 14 states pledged 6 611 places of resettlement. That’s all,” Vincent Cochetel, UNHCR special envoy for the central Mediterranean situation, told a briefing.

Canada, Norway and Italy are among them, while Niger and Rwanda offered temporary sanctuary, he said.

“There are many countries that could offer places of resettlement and do not,” he added.

Libya is the main conduit for Africans fleeing war and poverty trying to reach Europe since former leader Muammar Gaddafi was toppled in 2011, though the number of crossings dropped sharply from 2017 amid a European Union-backed push to block arrivals.

Libya is host to 45 000 registered refugees and asylum-seekers, as well as an estimated 650 000 migrants, many of who have found jobs, Cochetel said.

More than 5,000 refugees and migrants are in 19 official detention facilities, some controlled by armed groups, as well as an unknown number in squalid centres run by traffickers, he said. Rights groups say abuses including beatings and forced labour are rife.

Detainees include those who left on boats for Europe and were brought back by the Libyan Coast Guard, Cochetel said, stressing Libya is not safe for asylum.

“You have desperate individuals who go to detention centres, sometimes they pay to get inside. Sometimes they feel better protected in a detention centre than outside,” Cochetel said.

“Some nationalities outside detention centres are targeted by human traffickers, are kidnapped and then you have extortion, you have torture.

“Some people don’t feel safe in urban centres in Libya. Some prefer to be detained, even if conditions are not good. Others try to bribe their way in in the hope UNHCR will resettle them,” he said.