Libyans continue ‘spilling their blood on the battlefield’ as fight for Tripoli rages on

IOM/Marian Khokhar Prior to boarding buses home, IOM staff deliver travel documents to Nigerians returning from Libya. (File)

This article is brought to you in association with the United Nations.

It is five months to the day since the forces of the self-styled Libyan National Army launched an offensive to seize control of Tripoli, halting “an active and promising political process”, the United Nations top envoy for the country told the Security Council on Wednesday.

Renewed conflict has “spread geographically” and “exacted a heavy toll on civilians and those fighting”, said UN Special Representative for Libya, Ghassan Salamé, revealing that more than 100 civilians have been killed, over 300 injured and 120,000 displaced.

Acknowledging that there are “no confirmed figures” for fighters who have died, he informed the Council that “anecdotally the figure appears to be in the low thousands” as another generation of young Libyans “are spilling their blood on the battlefield, when their skills could better be used to rebuild their country”.

Drawing attention to airport attacks, he noted that “disaster” was narrowly averted last Sunday when a plane full of returning pilgrims was “miraculously not hit” by a series of shells fired at Mitiga airport. Seven people were, however, injured.

Mr. Salamé, who also heads the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) asked for the Council’s “strong support” in condemning indiscriminate shelling, “which threatens the lives of substantial numbers of civilians”.

Benghazi fallout

The Special Representative expressed his gratitude for the Council’s 10 August emergency session, which took place after UN staffers Clive Peck, Hussein El-Hadar, and Seniloli Tabuatausole’s lives were cut by a “cowardly attack” in Benghazi.
He memorialized Mr. Peck, or “Tabs, as he was known”, as somebody who travelled the world as a UN security officer, “enabling the vital work of peace making and delivery of life-saving humanitarian assistance” and pointed out that “Hussein had been with the Mission for nearly six years and was due to be married this month”.

In parallel to the UN internal inquiry into the bombing attack, Mr. Salamé noted that “Libyan authorities are requested to cooperate with us in the investigation” and to swiftly bring the perpetrators to justice.

Although the Organization currently remains in Libya, albeit it with a limited number of UN staff, the UN envoy said that a longer-term position will “only be taken once a fuller assessment of the security situation in the city and associated risks has been taken”.

“Naturally, we will work to mitigate further the risk to our personnel and operations, but the tragic irony is that the worse the situation on the ground becomes, the greater the need for our presence, mediation efforts, and provision of humanitarian assistance”, he lamented.

Turning to kidnappings and enforced disappearances, Mr. Salamé was “very disappointed” to report that there has been no news regarding the fate of parliamentary member Siham Sergewa since she was abducted from her home in Benghazi on 17 July.

“I reiterate the call on the authorities in the east to investigate” her enforced disappearance and “make the findings known”, he said, underscoring that they are “responsible for the safety and security of the people under their territorial control”.

Migrants and refugees

On 1 August, the Interior Minister ordered closed three detention centres holding migrants and refugees. Akin to this, the UN submitted to the National Accord Government, a contingency plan on detention alternatives that includes release into urban settings with provisions of assistance and health care and access to labour.

Despite these calls and Government claims to have shuttered the Tajoura Detention Centre, which was the site of a deadly airstrike in July, Mr. Salamé bemoaned that migrants continue to be sent there.

“Migrants and refugees continue to be detained on compounds controlled by armed groups placing them in extreme danger”, he flagged.

In recent weeks, hundreds of migrants and asylum seekers have continued to be intercepted by the Libyan Coast guard, and while some are being freed, others are being placed in detention.

Meanwhile, UNSMIL is continuing to receive reports of “indefinite arbitrary detention of migrants and refugees, extortion and beating, trafficking and inhumane conditions of detention including severe overcrowding and shortages of food and water”, the UN envoy said.

“Urgent funding for the 2019 Humanitarian Response Plan is necessary to allow us to continue to respond to the needs of the most vulnerable in Libya including migrants”, he reminded the Chamber.

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