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Aiding migrants and refugees in Libya

23 Jun 2017

Jean-Guy Vataux, head of mission in Libya, speaks about the work of Médecins Sans Frontières teams in the country in order to provide assistance to migrants, refugees and asylum seekers. During their time in Libya, most of them found themselves robbed, under the control of criminal networks, abused, jailed, beaten up, tortured and some die. Since July 2016, we’ve been providing lifesaving and primary healthcare to refugees and migrants detained in Tripoli and since this year, a new project opened to assist migrants, refugees and asylum-seekers in Misrata area. 

What is the situation inside the detention centres in Misrata?

In and around Misrata, we have activites in three detention centres, formally under the authority of the Directorate for Combatting Illegal Migration (DCIM). The number of detainees varies each week. They have been stopped at sea by the Libyan coastguards, arrested in towns, at a checkpoint, etc., and some are transferred from other detention centres in Tripoli. Most health issues affecting the patients are directly linked to the detention conditions and the violence that marks their journey: skin diseases, scabies, diarrhea, respiratory infections, muscular pain, wounds, and psychosomatic disorders. Médecins Sans Frontières provides referrals to secondary and specialized care for those who need it and hygiene and non-food items kits are distributed to the detention centres. 

"Most health issues affecting the patients are directly linked to the detention conditions and the violence that marks their journey: skin diseases, scabies, diarrhea, respiratory infections, muscular pain, wounds, and psychosomatic disorders"

What is the situation like for migrants, refugees and asylum-seekers in Libya?

People held in detention centres under the authority of the DCIM only account for a relatively small part of the total migrant and refugee population in Libya. The journey through the Libyan desert and the stays in the unofficial centres, normally run by criminal networks, are described as an excruciating experience by those who survived. It remains a blind spot for us. In 2016, about 5 000 people drowned in the Mediterranean, and as of June 2017, the toll is already estimated at 2 000 people. But how many die before reaching the coast and embarking on boats? There is every reason to believe that this is a silent hecatomb. Not all migrants and refugees come to Libya to get to Europe; some come only for work. Sadly, they end up in conditions that fall within the scope of forced labour.

What is Médecins Sans Frontières trying to do to assist them?

We’ve opened an out-patient clinic in Misrata town to reach out to migrants and refugees who live and work under various conditions, to better understand their challenges and provide free and confidential healthcare. The respect of medical confidentiality is key in such a context where developing certain diseases can be grounds for detention and expulsion. 

 

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