UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, announced today, Thursday, 30 January, that it is suspending its operational work at the Gathering and Departure Facility (GDF), fearing for the safety and protection of people at the facility, its staff and partners amid worsening conflict in Tripoli, Libya.
“Unfortunately UNHCR was left with no choice but to suspend work at the Gathering and Departure Facility in Tripoli after learning that training exercises, involving police and military personnel, are taking place just a few meters away from units housing asylum seekers and refugees,” said Jean-Paul Cavalieri, UNHCR’s Chief of Mission in Libya.
“We fear that the entire area could become a military target, further endangering the lives of refugees, asylum seekers, and other civilians,” he added.
UNHCR has started moving dozens of highly vulnerable refugees, who have already been identified for resettlement or evacuation to third countries, from the facility to safer locations.
UNHCR will also facilitate the evacuation of hundreds of other people to urban areas. This includes around 400 asylum seekers who had left the Tajoura detention centre after it was hit by air strikes last July as well as some 300 asylum-seekers from the Abu Salim detention centre who entered the GDF last November after being spontaneously released from detention by the authorities. All will be provided with cash assistance, relief items and medical assistance at UNHCR’s Community Day Centre in Tripoli.
“Other important aspects of our work in Libya continue at full pace and we hope to be able to resume our work at the GDF once safe to do so,” Cavalieri said.
On 2 January, UNHCR expressed serious concerns after three mortar shells fell close to the GDF and fragments landed near a warehouse inside the complex.
The GDF, which falls under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Interior, was established as a transit site to host refugees who had been identified for a solution outside of Libya, pending their evacuation. Since December 2018, nearly 1,700 formerly detained refugees have been evacuated out of Libya to safety, through the GDF. With close to 900 individuals entering the GDF spontaneously since July, it became severely overcrowded and is no longer functioning as a transit centre.
UNHCR continues to urge all sides to the conflict in Libya to protect civilians and civilian infrastructure.