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Coronavirus – Libya: Over 200 children stopped at sea and sent to Libyan detention centres; International Rescue Committee (IRC) calls for their release


Of the 200 children trying to reach Europe who have been intercepted at sea and returned to Libya so far this year, almost all have been arbitrarily detained, the International Rescue Committee says.

The majority of those seeking a better life in Europe were Somalian, Eritrean and Sudanese, and most of the children were aged 12-15*. Over a quarter were unaccompanied minors. Some were infants under one year of age. 20 per cent were children with disabilities or children at risk because their caregiver was sick. When the shooting incident took place at the Khoms disembarkation point on Monday night, 15 children were present. They, along with all other children who have been returned from sea, are in urgent need of protection.

However, rather than being provided with the support they are so desperately in need of, most have been sent to live in overcrowded, unsanitary detention centres where they are now at even greater risk – not only of COVID-19, but also of violence and abuse.

Tom Garofalo, the IRC's Country Director in Libya, said:

“Absolutely no one should be detained in Libya's detention centres – least of all a child. Since March this year, we've provided emergency medical care to over 3,800 people who were seeking safety in Europe but were brought back to Libya from sea – including over 200 children. Many are in a terrible condition when they are returned: some have been at sea for weeks. Some have seen fellow passengers die before their eyes. When they are disembarked, people who have been through so much need support, especially psychosocial care, but instead they are sent to detention centres where support is extremely limited.

“June was the busiest month this year in terms of the number of people who were stopped at sea and returned to Libya and we will only see the numbers increase as the weather continues to improve. People are desperate to leave Libya because of the conditions they are living in. Every day, they know they could be abducted, detained and held for ransom. Every day, they struggle to earn a living to make ends meet. They do not risk their lives at sea for nothing – it is a last resort as they seek safety for themselves and their families. Detaining them upon their return is not the answer. We urgently need to get people out of detention, to prevent additional people being detained, and to get all those at risk to a place of safety.”

The IRC is calling for an immediate end to arbitrary detention and for those brought back from sea to receive all necessary health care and emotional support. Referrals must also be made for those who need further assistance or specialized services. Additionally, COVID testing capacity across the country must be scaled-up and access to health and protection services for migrants, refugees and asylum seekers must be expanded so that they can receive the care they need – something even more vital during the pandemic.

The IRC is supporting the Libyan COVID-19 response with training of front-line health workers and the provision of additional isolation units. Our health staff are part of the five Rapid Response Teams the Ministry of Health has created to carry out initial assessments of suspected cases and tracing of their contacts. With most public health facilities closed in Tripoli and Misrata due to a lack of capacity, our mobile support to the Ministry of Health is proving vital in reaching vulnerable communities in this response.

Distributed by APO Group on behalf of International Rescue Committee.

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