MSF withdraws from Libya following violence at refugee camps

MSF pulls out of Libyan detention centres due to 'dangerous and persistent' violence against refugees
3 min read
24 June, 2021
Médecins Sans Frontières, a medical human rights organisation has released a statement confirming its withdrawal from several Libyan refugee camps following an uptick in violence against refugees.
MSF withdrew doctors, prompting concerns [Getty]

Libyan authorities are committing violence against its refugee population, prompting medical rights group Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) to pull out, amid mounting fears of the worsening situation in the country.

Following an uptick in repeated incidents of violence towards refugees and migrants held in two detention centres in Tripoli, MSF has suspended its activities in Mabani and Abu Salim detention centres.

"This is not an easy decision to make, as it means we won’t be present in detention centres where we know people are suffering on a daily basis," said Beatrice Lau, MSF head of mission in Libya.

"However, the persistent pattern of violent incidents and serious harm to refugees and migrants, as well as the risk to the safety of our staff, has reached a level that we are no longer able to accept," Lau said.

"Until the violence stops, and conditions improve, MSF can no longer provide humanitarian and medical care in these facilities."

Reports of ill-treatment, physical abuse and violence against people held in these detention centres has been increasing since February, and "in the space of just one week, MSF teams witnessed first-had, and received at least three reports of, violence incidents resulting in severe physical and psychological harm", the group said.

For example, during a visit on 17 June to Mabani 'Collection and Return' detention centre, where some 2,000 people are reportedly held in overcrowded conditions, MSF teams witnessed indiscriminate beatings administered by guards of people who attempted to leave their cells to be seen by doctors.

Last week 19 patients suffering from injuries caused by beating, including fractures and blunt trauma, were treated by MSF staff.

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At the same time automatic weapons were fired on people held in the Abu Salim detention centre, causing multiple casualties.

The increase in violence since the beginning of 2021 goes together with the simultaneous significant rise in the number of refugees, migrants and asylum-seekers intercepted at sea by the EU-funded Libyan coastguard, forcibly returned to Libya and locked in detention centres. As of 19 June, over 14,000 people had been intercepted and returned to Libya, exceeding the total number of forced returns for the whole of 2020.

"Our colleagues have seen and heard of vulnerable men, women and children, already held in desperate conditions, being subjected to further abuse and life-threatening risks," said Ellen van der Velden, MSF’s operations manager.

"No further people intercepted at sea by EU-funded Libyan coastguard should be forced back to Libya and into detention centres. Violence in detention centres must end and all those trapped in these inhumane conditions must be released."