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24th Mar 2019

Nepal units arrive in Libya to guard UN refugee agency

  • Libya has around 43,000 recognised refugees (Photo: USEmbMalta)

UN guards from Nepal have arrived in Libya as part of a security detail to keep staff safe from harm.

They will be guarding people inside compounds working for the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) and other UN missions. Others are waiting for deployment.

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"There is still some technical problems with clearance of their weapons and that sort of thing," said a representative of an international organisation in Brussels on Tuesday (17 October).

UN officials in early September had announced anywhere between 150 to 250 units in the coming weeks.

Their arrival last week highlights the general insecurity and chaos that continues to reign throughout much of the country, as armed militia groups terrorise broad swathes of the population and complicate EU efforts to stem migration flows.

Some 220,000 Libyans remain displaced because of the fighting. Libya is also the main departure point for migrants and refugees leaving for Europe. Over 109,000 landed in Italy from Libya since the start of the year.

The EU is backing and supporting the work by the UNHCR and the Geneva-based International Organisation for Migration (IOM).

Both organisations have been in Libya for the past couple of years but turmoil has broadly restricted international staff access.

The IOM has 230 national staff throughout the country but has to rotate international staff every few days given UN security rules.

The past few days has seen intense fighting in and around the coastal city of Sabratha, where some 14,500 migrants and refugees were being held captive by criminal gangs.

All will go to any number of the 24 notorious detention centres run by Libyan authorities. Another 6,000 are thought to be missing.

A lucky few may end up being resettled as refugees elsewhere or sent home, if they are economic migrants.

The IOM has so far returned, since the start of the year, around 8,500 economic migrants on a voluntary basis to their home countries.

Once home, the IOM says they are further supported with integration programmes.

Most are flown from Tripoli but others are also sent from Benghazi and Sabha in the south of the country. The aim is to return up to 15,000 before the end of the year. In 2016, they managed 2,600. Up to 30 percent of those returned are not from a detention centre.

The UNHCR, however, is finding it difficult to resettle people directly from Libya.

People who are officially recognised by the UN as refugees can be resettled to another country, where they receive protection. Libya has 43,000 but only 39 have so far found a home in 2017. All in Canada.

The plan is to start evacuating many more from Libya to Niger and then have them resettled from there.

Despite being a main transit country to Libya, only one person has been resettled from Niger in the past four years.

Many are now avoiding Agadez, a major smuggling hub, and are instead going to Arlit in the north west before crossing into Algeria and then to Libya.

The UN refugee agency will not start evacuations from Libya to Niger until November and not until more member states commit to take in people from Niger. So far, only Canada, France and Sweden have agreed.

EU member states slow to pledge

The European commission is pressing EU states to pledge 50,000 spaces for resettlement up until 2019.

"So far we have received 24,000 pledges from the member states because they have until the end of the month to make the pledge," said a senior EU official.

He noted 12 member states have so far made the pledges. Austria, with its new anti-immigration chancellor Sebastian Kurz, is not one of them.

This article was updated on Thursday (19 October) to note that the UN is sending guards and not troops and they will be providing protection also to other UN missions inside the compounds

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