UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, is deeply dismayed by credible reports that human traffickers and smugglers are impersonating UNHCR staff across Libya.
The criminals have been spotted at multiple disembarkation points and smuggling hubs, using vests and items with logos similar to that of UNHCR.
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The UN agency says it received the information from refugees who were sold to traffickers in Libya and subsequently subjected to abuse and torture.
A press release from UNHCR explains:
In Libya, UNHCR and its partners are present at official disembarkation points to provide lifesaving humanitarian and medical assistance to refugees and migrants, including food, water and clothes.
Once the smuggled passengers are back on land, the Libyan authorities transport them to detention centres, managed by the Directorate for Combating Illegal Migration (under the Ministry of Interior). UNHCR teams are also present there to monitor the situation, aid and identify the most vulnerable in order to try to find solutions, especially in third countries.
UNHCR is not engaged in transferring refugees from disembarkation points to detention centres.
UNHCR has received reports of unspeakable atrocities committed against refugees and asylum-seekers in the streets of Tripoli, including rape, kidnapping and torture. One woman told UNHCR that unknown criminals kidnapped her husband and then raped her and tortured her one-year-old baby. She said the child was stripped naked and sexually harassed by the criminals.
UNHCR is opposed to detaining refugees and asylum-seekers, but in some cases where there are no alternatives they can provide refugees with life-saving assistance.
Still, the agency wants an alternative to detention centers be put in place immediately, specifically “using the Gathering and Departure Facility in Tripoli, which will serve as a platform to find safety in third countries, and which will be managed by the Libyan Ministry of Interior and by UNHCR.”
In addition, the UN Refugee Agency is “calling for strong institutional action” against the traffickers and smugglers impersonating their staff.