Six children among 53 confirmed fatalities after Libya detention centre airstrikes: Security Council condemns attack

5 July 2019

The toll from Tuesday’s reported airstrikes on a detention centre in the suburbs of Tripoli has risen to 53 dead and more than 130 injured among the “severely traumatized” surviving migrants and refugees, UN aid agencies said on Friday, reiterating their appeal to close all such facilities in the embattled country.

Speaking to journalists in Geneva, Joel Millman from the International Organization for Migration (IOM), said that six children were among the fatalities at the Tajoura site, where the more than 600 detainees came from at least 17 mainly African States.

No confirmation that guards fired on fleeing migrants

Some 350 migrants – among them 20 women and four children – are still being held at Tajoura, the IOM spokesperson added, noting that he was unable to confirm reports that guards had fired on migrants trying to flee.

In the aftermath of Tuesday’s devastation, the head of the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) and Special Representative of the Secretary-General, Ghassan Salamé, led calls for an international inquiry, insisting it could “clearly…constitute a war crime”.

Echoing that appeal, UNHCR’s Charlie Yaxley noted that both parties involved in the fight for Tripoli – the UN-recognised Government and forces loyal to self-styled Libyan National Army commander, Khalifa Haftar – knew where civilians were sheltering.

“We reiterate once again that the coordinates of these detention centres in Tripoli are well-known to both sides of the conflict and this was a preventable tragedy that never should have happened”, he said, while also noting that refugees had been “severely traumatized” after seeing fellow detainees dying.

“They spoke in a state of shock, they spoke to us about seeing their fellow detainees’ body parts dismembered around the centre,” he said.

According to IOM and UNHCR, 3,300 migrants and refugees remain arbitrarily detained inside and around Tripoli.

IOM’s Mr. Millman further noted that approximately 180 of the 600 people held in Tajoura had agreed to be evacuated under IOM’s voluntary repatriation programme, and that two of them had died in the airstrikes.

“We are not able to verify who is responsible for the attack, that’s why there needs to be this independent investigation”, UNCHR’s Mr. Yaxley said.  “What we can say is that, is at this point there does need to be greater efforts, far greater efforts from the international community, particularly amongst those States who have leverage over the warring parties to bring an end to the violence.”

Addressing the dangers faced by those being held in Libya, Mr. Yaxley cited concerns that “some of these detention centres may be being used to store weapons and military equipment. We remind all parties that conflict is using civilian infrastructure in that way, would be a violation of international humanitarian law and must be avoided at all costs”.

Latest Mediterranean drowning claims dozens of lives

In addition to the Tajoura tragedy, IOM also reported that more than 80 migrants are feared drowned after their vessel capsized while trying to reach Europe from the Libyan port of Zwara.

“The survivors told IOM staff that the inflatable boat carrying 86 people including four women and two children, left Zwara around 6am on 1 July”, Mr. Millman said. “A few hours later, the boat began to leak and capsized during the confusion and frantic movements of the dozens of people on board.”

Noting that “this is not the first such tragedy this year”, IOM said in a statement that two rescues were carried out in May on two overloaded crafts.

On one vessel, 59 people went missing and 16 were rescued; on the second, 69 were saved. Both boats reportedly left Zwara.

So far this year, the UN migration agency has reported 426 deaths from drowning linked to attempts to cross the central Mediterranean route to Europe.

Some 3,750 people have been returned to systematic and arbitrary detention—where they remain at risk as clashes continue in Libya’s capital, IOM noted.

Security Council condemns attack

The Members of the Security Council issued a Press Statement on Friday afternoon in New York, condemning the attack on the detention centre. They “stressed the need for all parties to urgently de-escalate the situation and to commit to a ceasefire.”

They “called on all parties rapidly to return to UN political mediation and reaffirmed their full support for the leadership of the UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General, Ghassan Salamé.  Lasting peace and stability in Libya will come only through a political solution” the statement continued, noting “ongoing efforts in support by the African Union, the Arab League and others.”

Council members also expressed “deep concern over the worsening humanitarian situation in Libya” calling for full access to be given to humanitarians.

They also expressed their ongoing concern over the conditions in the detention centres which are “the responsibility of the Libyan Government”, and called on “all Member States not to intervene in the conflict or take measures that exacerbate the conflict” within Libya.

Scores of Rohingya refugee shelters in Bangladesh destroyed by flooding

5 July 2019

 

Heavy monsoon rains in Bangladesh have drenched the Cox’s Bazar settlement, home to more than 900,000 Rohingya refugees, destroying some 273 shelters, and injuring 11 people, the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, said on Friday. The huge refugee camp has been hit by three days of non-stop rain, and more heavy downpours are expected throughout next week, with four months of the monsoon season still to go.

WFP/Gemma Snowdon
Refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar turned to mud after the rains, with some areas completely flooded.

Refugees volunteers assist in emergency relief

Refugee volunteers trained by UNHCR and partners, worked throughout the night on Wednesday in heavy rain, to help families in urgent need. In some cases, this involved rescuing refugees from shelters destroyed by the 26 reported landslides.

Around 2,137 people have been relocated, either because their shelters have suffered substantial damage, or as a precaution, and emergency supplies are being distributed to help rebuild, repair and strengthen damaged shelters.

Preparations for the monsoon season in Cox’s Bazar have included building retaining structures on hillsides, installing drainage, and building roads and bridges. Reservoirs have been also constructed to hold monsoon rains and stabilise water supplies.

Since January, some 21,000 refugees have been employed each month by the UN’s World Food Programme (WFP), under a cash for work scheme, assisting disaster risk reduction and engineering work designed to make the camps safer, including the stabilisation of slopes.

Situation in Cox’s Bazar ‘remains critical’

At a press briefing at the UN Office in Geneva on Friday, WFP spokesperson Herve Verhoosel said that this year, UN agencies and NGOs will complete reforestation work across more than 200 hectares of the camps, which will help to stabilise the land and reduce the risk of landslides. WFP is responsible for around 40% of the reforestation, with technical inputs from the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, FAO.

Food stocks for thousands of refugees in Cox’s Bazar have been damaged by the flooding, said Mr. Verhoosel. WFP has been providing 4,889 people with high energy biscuits and hot meals, and has enough supplies to feed more than 160,000 people in an emergency.

He added that almost two years after the 2017 influx of Rohingya in Bangladesh, the situation remains critical. The refugees remain highly vulnerable to food insecurity and the situation would rapidly deteriorate if humanitarian assistance were to cease or decrease: “It costs WFP US$24 million every month to feed almost 900,000 refugees and, without continued support from the international community, the situation for these refugees would become increasingly dire.”

UN and civil society team up to make cities more sustainable and inclusive

3 July 2019

How can we make sure that cities become more inclusive, with a smaller environmental footprint, and leave no-one behind? These questions will be tackled at the UN Civil Society Conference, which is due to take place in the capital of Utah, Salt Lake City, at the end of August.

Visit Salt Lake
Salt Lake City in the US state of Utah, is hosting the United Nations Civil Society Conference.

Representatives of civil society will have the opportunity to meet with senior UN officials, and discuss a wide range of solutions to the challenges of urban life.

The theme of this year’s conference, “building sustainale and inclusive cities and communities”, reflects the fact that over half of the world’s population, some 55 per cent, now live in urban areas, with that figure expected to rise to 68 per cent by 2050.

Conference sessions will discuss topics connected to the main theme, including climate change; opportunities for youth; and emerging technologies and innovation.

Leaders of large urban centres, such as Salt Lake City in the state of Utah, the communities that live in them, as well as the private sector, are at the forefront of finding sustainable solutions to poverty; climate change; clean water and energy; and many of the other challenges connected to urban living.

Salt Lake City’s sustainability credentials include the development of a Climate Positive Plan, laying out a path for a transition to 100 per cent clean energy by 2032, and an 80 per cent reduction in carbon emissions by 2024. In addition, the nearby Utah Valley University, works to educate the campus and larger community on the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and has been an affiliate member of the UN’s Department of Global Communications (DGC) since 2017.

“As a city committed to being inclusive, safe, resilient, and sustainable, it is an honor to be the first US host city of the UN Civil Society Conference outside of New York,” said Mayor Jackie Biskupski in a statement. “I can think of no better time and no better place than Salt Lake City, for the UN and the world’s NGOs to expand awareness in this country of sustainable development goals and the value of global unity.”

Highlights include interactive thematic sessions, NGO-sponsored workshops, exhibits and a youth hub. Speakers and attendees will include leaders and other representatives from NGOs, UN agencies, academia, faith traditions, the public and private sectors and youth from around the world.

The UN Civil Society Conference is described by the UN as the Organization’s “premier event in the civil society calendar”, focusing on UN topics of interest to civil society and NGOs, where issues of global concern can be discussed.

Registration is still open for the Conference, but the organizers are encouraging potential attendees to sign up here.