UN closes down refugee centre in Tripoli due to heavy shelling


An increase in artillery exchange in the Libyan capital Tripoli has forced UN to suspend operations at a refugee centre for fear it could become a target, it announced on Thursday, January 30.

The U.N. Libya envoy Ghassan Salame told the Security Council in a briefing that a truce brokered by Russia and Turkey was holding “only in name” and that artillery exchanges between the warring factions is causing an increase in civilian casualties due to indiscriminate shelling.

The closure of the centre for refugees and asylum seekers in central Tripoli may further restrict protection for migrants frequently subjected to abuse including torture and forced labour, both in and out of detention.

The UNHCR Gathering and Departure Facility (GDF), which housed nearly 1,000 people, had been plagued with problems, reflecting the difficulties for international agencies working in a city controlled by armed groups.

“Unfortunately UNHCR was left with no choice but to suspend work at the (GDF) after learning that training exercises, involving police and military personnel, are taking place just a few metres away from units housing asylum seekers and refugees,” Jean-Paul Cavalieri, UNHCR’s Libya head, said in a statement.

“We fear that the entire area could become a military target, further endangering the lives of refugees, asylum seekers, and other civilians.”

Since January 12, when forces aligned with Tripoli’s internationally recognised government and eastern based rivals led by Khalifa Haftar conditionally agreed to a truce, more than 110 violations had been recorded, Salame reported.

“With recent developments on the ground, I regret to report that the truce holds only in name,” Salame said.

Libya’s conflict has escalated since Haftar launched an offensive on Tripoli in April, upending U.N.-led peace plans. International powers have supplied arms and air power, though there has been a lull in air strikes since Russia and Turkey called for a truce starting January 12, and international powers met in Berlin on January 19 trying to broker a ceasefire.

Haftar has received support from the United Arab Emirates, Jordan, Russia and Egypt, while Turkey has recently stepped up its backing for the Tripoli government.

Libya’s western coast has been one of the main departure points for migrants attempting dangerous sea crossings to Europe, though the number of departures has dropped sharply since mid-2017.

The country has a migrant population numbering hundreds of thousands, and several thousand are held in detention centres in or near Tripoli that have been left unguarded or hit by artillery or air strikes amid the fighting.

In July, an air strike hit a detention centre in Tripoli’s Tajoura district that was located in the same complex as an armed group’s vehicle repair workshop, killing at least 53 migrants.

A report issued by UN this week repeated previous findings that the air strike was likely carried out by a foreign aircraft, but failed to name the state.(Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation)