Aid workers in refugee camps in Libya have accused the UN of trying to starve out refugees and asylum seekers who are sheltering for safety inside a centre run by the UN refugee agency in the capital of Tripoli.
One group of about 400 people, who came to the Tripoli gathering and departure facility in October from Abu Salim detention centre in the south of the country, have apparently been without food for weeks.
Among them are 100 minors, according to a recent assessment by the International Organization for Migration (IOM). They are “currently starving” apart from some food that other refugees manage to sneak out of another part of the centre, the IOM assessment said.
They last received food assistance a “couple of weeks ago”.
Internal documents seen by the Guardian show that the UNHCR is also planning to withdraw food from 600 other refugees and migrants in the centre – who include survivors of bombings, torture, forced labour and other human rights abuses. The majority have already tried to reach Europe by crossing the Mediterranean, but were returned to Libya by the EU-backed Libyan coastguard.
In a document circulated among UN staff on Tuesday, and seen by the Guardian, the agency said it would “phase out” food catering from December 31.
The document said the information should not be made public before mid-December, when 230 more refugees have been evacuated to other countries, in order to prevent disruption.
After that, the facility will no longer be used as a transit centre, the document said, until the remaining refugees and migrants “vacate voluntarily”.
In the document, the UNHCR said that it would continue to finance cleaning in the centre after the withdrawal of food, partly to “prevent the reputational risk of having deficient/broken toilets and showers”.
It also said a healthcare clinic on the site would continue to operate.
An aid worker with knowledge of the situation, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said: “They are starving the population inside the [facility]. They’re just trying to starve them to motivate them to leave. It’s deliberately withholding aid to put people under pressure.”
The group who will be affected by the next food withdrawal include 400 survivors of the July 03 Tajoura detention centre bombing, in which at least 53 refugees and migrants were killed after an airstrike hit the hall in which they were being held. Hundreds of survivors remained on the site of the strike for a week afterwards, staging a hunger strike in protest at the lack of help.
They eventually walked dozens of miles to the gathering and departure facility, where they were let in but told their cases for evacuation wouldn’t be evaluated until they agreed to leave the centre.
A November 11 email sent by the Guardian to UNHCR spokespeople, which asked whether denying food to former Abu Salim detainees in the facility was a “deliberate policy on UNHCR’s part”, went unanswered, as did further requests for comment. (Source: The Guardian)