Interview (1): UNHRC's work in Libya During COVID19 Crisis
Spokesperson for International United Nations Watch Maya Garner interviewed Tarik Argaz, Communications Officer for the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) in Libya. “We are working a little bit on all fronts and across the country, both with refugees and with the Libyan population,” Mr. Argaz said, outlining the agency’s community-based Tripoli centre’s collaborative activities with local authorities and municipalities. These include operating within detention centres to advocate for the release of refugees who, lacking official refugee status, are officially considered illegal migrants.
UNHCR helps the detained refugees by making specific services and items available to them that they may need within detention facilities. I In the last two years alone, they have managed to secure the release of more than4,000 detainees. UNHCR also assists internally displaced Libyans, working alongside local municipalities to assess their needs. The agency provides medical equipment, including ambulances, medical tents and generators, as well as renovating health facilities and schools. In light of the COVID-19 crisis, Argaz confirmed that the UNHRC is taking preventative measures to protect staff and refugees who visit the Tripoli centre in order to avoid any risk of spreading the virus.
Because of the virus and the requisite precautions make it more difficult to access the centre. Argaz stated that in Libya UNHCR is opting for a “community outreach strategy”. Since the launch of the military offensive on Tripoli by the Libyan National Army under the command of Khalifa Haftar, the conflict in Libya has displaced some 200,000 people. There have been casualties among refugees in detention centres that were hit in airstrikes. Before calling for the immediate release of all refugees and asylum-seekers in these detention centres, UNHCR had launched a series of evacuation/resettlement programmes but these had to be suspended once the COVID-19 crisis restricted flights.
According to Argaz, UNHCR has been trying since to negotiate on behalf of people in dire need of assistance. The agency works “with all partners [to the conflict] to fulfill its humanitarian mandate and deliver assistance across the country”, he said. However, the conflict has hampered UNHCR’s access and ability to move within the country. Previously, the agency could readily dispatch a mission team in response to a centre’s specific needs. That now requires far more coordination and advance planning and even when “green lighted,” missions are often subject to last-minute postponement or cancelation. Interview with Tarik Argaz of UNHRC's office in Libya on UNHCR's work in the country in light of #COVID19.