As the Libya Crisis continues, UNHCR calls on states to share the burden and uphold principles of rescue-at-sea

UNHCR/ A.Branthwaite

So far 498,313 people have fled the Libyan violence via the land borders in Libya, including 199,700 to Egypt and 236,151 to Tunisia. There continues to be a steady influx of people crossing these borders, with approximately 2,500 to 3,000 crossing daily. However, many more are trapped by the ongoing conflict in Libya and UNHCR is particularly concerned about refugees and asylum seekers in Misrata and other Libyan towns. As the situation in Libya deteriorates, many may have to consider flight by sea as their only option. Indeed, over 1,100 people have arrived in Malta from Libya on five boats since March 26th, while 3,358 people have reached southern Italy from Libya.

However, after 220 refugees drowned last week having fled Libya, UNHCR is calling on the European Union (EU) to urgently put into place more reliable and effective mechanisms for rescue-at-sea.

With Italy and Malta bearing the brunt of the Libyan migration, and likely to see the arrival of more people who need international protection, UNHCR is also calling for active consideration of concrete responsibility and burden sharing measures among EU member countries. Such measures could include technical and financial support and the use of the EU Temporary Protection Directive which aims to harmonize temporary protection for displaced people in cases of “mass influx” on the basis of solidarity between member states.

UNHCR is also calling on EU Member States, together with other resettlement countries to offer additional resettlement places for refugees in North Africa, as resettlement is the only durable solution that is feasible for some. UNHCR's recent calls on this front have met with only a limited response. 

In March, the High Commissioner visited both Tunisia and Egypt and voiced concerns for both Libyans inside the country in desperate need of humanitarian aid, and for 3,000 people (mainly Somalis and Eritreans) stuck at the borders because they cannot return to their home countries. He also appealed for humanitarian access to be allowed for UNHCR and other UN agencies to provide aid within Libya.

UNHCR is also concerned about more than 500 Libyans of Berber ethnicity that have fled conflict in Libya’s Western Mountains region and sought shelter in the Dehiba area of southern Tunisia. A lack of basic medical supplies and a shortage of food prompted their departure and they have significant humanitarian needs. UNHCR has established a camp in Remada town, 45 kilometers from the border, which includes 130 tents and electricity and water facilities.

UNHCR now has a total need of USD 66 million for the Libya Situation but has only received 56% of this amount. It is estimated that up to 1.5 million people may be affected by the conflict and the agency continues to appeal to donors for urgent cash contributions towards the UNHCR supplementary budget.