London, SW7 5W
UN High Commissioner for Refugees
Case Postale 2500
CH-1211 Genève 2 Dépôt
8 January 2010
Re: Eritrean refugees in Libya
Dear Mr Guterres,
Now that Christmas and the New Year celebrations are over, please remember those vulnerable people for whom the festive season was a time of extra suffering. From 29th December onwards, I have been receiving distress calls from those in different prisons in Libya detailing the latest breach of their human rights and the distressful situation that they were subjected to. For example, those in Grabula-2 prison are being blood-tested, and those who are found to be ill with hepatitis, and those who have skin rashes, have been separated from the rest of the prison population, locked in Room 6, but not to receive treatment. They are not told exactly what they have been diagnosed with; this I had to discover through my own sources. They are locked up in isolation and without treatment waiting in ignorance of what ails them and of what may befall them in the future.
And what happens to these untreated prisoner-patients? They were told that due to their illness they will be deported to Eritrea. The hepatitis and skin rashes are brought on by living in the harsh prison conditions that they are enduring for the ‘crime’ of coming to seek asylum in Libya. They are hoodwinked by officials from the Eritrean embassy who visited and tricked them into filling in forms detailing their names, Eritrean I.D. card numbers, and information pertaining to which border they left Eritrea from; this information is extracted by false promise and is then used to facilitate deportation. Those who are aware of what will happen if they give this information, and who know that promises of work in Libya made by the Eritrean embassy are false, cannot refuse to fill in the forms or to have their photos taken without receiving severe beatings and constant threats by the security guards in these Libyan prisons where the would-be refugees are kept.
I feel that the UNHCR has failed in its duty to register these Eritreans as refugees despite being asked to do so continuously by myself, and the prisoners, and others who are concerned; the Libyan prison authorities have not denied access to the prisoners who needed to be registered. After so many months and years of unlawful imprisonment, those who are forced to leave the prisons by UNHCR or by the prison authorities, whether they are healthy or otherwise, have no registration, which leads to a situation where they are likely to be rounded up and imprisoned again; if not, they still have no easy way to travel hundreds of kilometres to the nearest UNHCR office which is in Tripoli. No transport is provided, no money is given for their immediate subsistence and no discharge paper is supplied. If they reach Tripoli, they will only be given an appointment up to three months in the future, with no form of employment or benefits or paperwork with which to subsist in the meantime, and if they can survive those months this way, they are likely to be given another delayed appointment until yet another 6 or 7 months in the future.
They are treated as non-existent by UNHCR when they are in prison in Libya, and treated little better once they get outside since there is no adequate system in place to protect them and keep track of them as they go through the process.
Officials from the Eritrean Embassy have been allowed access to Libyan prisons such as Misratha, Garabula-2, Zawiyah, Zlitan, etc. where Eritreans who fled from Eritrea, who fled from these very people and the inhuman policies implemented by these very people, are exposed to their deceit and cruelty once again; are, in effect, under threat again.
In the light of the above, I urge UNHCR to register these Eritreans who are under double threat from Libyans and Eritrean officials colluding with Libyans. I also urge UNHCR to extend their efforts at resettlement, especially for those Eritreans who find themselves in a Libyan prison so that if they survive one form of hell they will not have to endure it again when they are out, many of them suffering from serious untreated illnesses.
I hope you understand the gravity and urgency of the situation Eritrean refugees are facing in Libya. I am aware, of course, of the difficulties faced by UNHCR in dealing with uncooperative Libyan authorities, but I feel that ensuring registration is the least that must be done.