New survey finds a quarter of refugees in Libyan detention centre are malnourished

New survey finds a quarter of refugees in Libyan detention centre are malnourished

Almost a quarter of 300 refugees, migrants and asylum seekers held in a Libyan detention centre were underweight and malnourished, reveals a nutritional survey by Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF).

Children under 18 make up a third of the detained population at the Sabaa Detention Centre. The survey reveals children in Sabaa are more likely to be underweight, and twice as likely to be severely malnourished than adults.

One of the major concerns for MSF is the erratic and inconsistent amount of food being supplied to Sabaa. Without a permanent food source in place, the survey shows a near 10% increase in malnutrition between the two screenings.

Karline Kleijer, MSF’s head of emergencies, said:

“What we see today in this single detention center is symptomatic of an uncontrolled, unjustified, and reckless system that puts the lives of refugees and migrants at risk.”

Sabaa is one of seven camps found in Tripoli, and currently holds over 300 refugees, migrants and asylum seekers. Most are Eritrean with other nationalities including Sudanese, Nigerians, Cameroonians and Ghanaians.

Eritreans refugees are recognised by the UNHCR as persons of concern, though they are being held in Sabaa for up to six months. Unfortunately, such treatment of refugees and asylum seekers in these centres is far too common.

Currently, around 5,700 refugees and migrants are being held in similar detention centres across Libya, all of which are run by the Directorate for Combating Illegal Migration (DCIM), a division of the Libyan Ministry of Interior. The vast majority of those detained, approximately 4,100, are registered persons of concern to UNHRC.

In the report, MSF reveals that Sabaa has not received food through a centrally managed service since October 2018. This has led to an inconsistent food supply within the detention centre, leaving some refugees and migrants without food for days at a time. New arrivals to Sabaa can go up to four days without a meal.

MSF provided two weeks’ worth of food to meet basic dietary needs during November 2018 and February 2019. MSF have appealed to authorities including the Ministry of Interior and the World Food Program to rectify the dire conditions, however, no permanent solution has been found.

Karline Kleijer said:

“If food, shelter, and essential services can't be provided in a consistent and appropriate manner, then these people should be released immediately by the Libyan authorities.”

Malnourishment in Sabaa has negative effects on MSF’s ability to provide medical care to refugees. Without enough food in the centre, many cannot take required medications.

The reality of these detention centres in Libya has led to evacuations by UNHCR, who recognise the poor living conditions refugees are trapped in.

Roberto Mignone, UNHCR’s Chief of Mission in Libya, said:

“Refugees in Libya are faced with a nightmarish scenario. They have fled their homes in search of safety and protection only to end up incarcerated, languishing indefinitely in squalid conditions.”

Last year, the UNHCR evacuated nearly 2,500 refugees from detention centres around Libya to Niger, Romania and Italy.

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Photo: Sara Creta/MSF

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