UN shuts refugee centre in Tripoli

January 31, 2020

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CAIRO: The United Nations said on Thursday it was suspending operations at a refugee centre in Libya’s capital because it could become a target while the UN envoy said a truce brokered by Russia and Turkey was holding “only in name”.

Artillery exchanges in Tripoli have significantly increased in recent days, UN Libya envoy Ghassan Salame told the Security Council in a briefing, causing an increase in civilian casualties due to indiscriminate shelling.

Since Jan 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 said.

Libya’s conflict has escalated since Haftar launched an offensive on Tripoli in April, upending UN-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 Jan 12, and international powers met in Berlin on Jan 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.

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

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.

Published in Dawn, January 31st, 2020