Evacuation from Libya: some questions answered by UNHCR

Published: 27 May 2021

Refugees living in Libya are at risk of many human rights violations, including detention, abduction, physical abuse and forced labour. It is also very difficult for them to meet basic needs such as food, shelter and healthcare. As a result, many have tried to escape from the country by boat, a journey which often ends in death by drowning or being intercepted and returned to Libya by the EU-supported Coast Guard, after which they are usually incarcerated in abusive detention centres, some of them run by militia groups.


In order to spare refugees from this ordeal, UNHCR has established two evacuation programmes, one to Niger and the other to Rwanda, where reception centres known as Emergency Transit Mechanisms (ETMs) have been established. On behalf of IRRI, Jeff Crisp of the Refugee Studies Centre, University of Oxford, put some questions to UNHCR about the way in which these programmes function. The answers are reproduced below.


  1. Is it accurate to say that evacuees from Libya are regarded as asylum seekers and that their eligibility for refugee status is examined after arrival in Rwanda and Niger?


  1. Yes, this is correct for the large majority of evacuees. On a few occasions UNHCR in Libya has registered individuals who were previously recognized as refugees by UNHCR or governments in countries of first asylum.


  1. What process is used to assess their claim, and what proportion have been recognized as refugees so far?


  1. Stringent pre-screening is conducted prior to evacuation from Libya in order to ensure that evacuees meet the refugee criteria. All evacuees go through thorough screening and verification upon arrival in one of the ETMs before being referred for UNHCR Mandate refugee status determination at first instance level.


In view of the need for expedited processing for certain categories of evacuees from Libya, while ensuring that all stakeholders continue to have confidence in the integrity of UNHCR’s processes, a simplified and merged refugee status determination/resettlement procedure is applied for individuals in the ETM that fit into a profile where: (a) a presumption of inclusion applies, and (b) for whom it may be expected that the likelihood of exclusion/security issues arising is minimal. In both ETMs the recognition rate currently stands at 99%.


In Niger, if UNHCR rejects a refugee claim in first instance, the file is submitted to the National Eligibility Commission for adjudication. After the Notification of rejection, the individual has 30 days to file an appeal against the decision. Once an appeal application is received, UNHCR will assess its merit. At the same time the appeal application is transmitted to the Nigerien appeal body, the Comité de Recours Gracieux (CRG) which will only adjudicate it if UNHCR rejects the appeal. In such cases, if CRG confirms the rejection, the applicant will be considered as finally rejected.


In Rwanda, he appeal process is entirely managed by UNHCR, however, the following process is currently under discussion with the authorities: Should UNHCR reach a final rejection on appeal, the concerned individuals would be referred to the responsible government authority to pursue the option of long-term stay in Rwanda. Such evacuees have the flexibility to lodge an asylum claim to be adjudicated by the National Refugee Status Determination Committee.


  1. Have any of the evacuees been advised to return to their country of origin or country of first asylum, or to locally integrate in Rwanda and Niger?


  1. The Memoranda of Understanding related to the use of the ETMs signed by UNHCR with the governments in both countries foresee indeed the options of return to countries of origin or first admission, as well as the option of local integration for a small group of individuals for whom no other solutions would be available, subject to the agreement of the competent authorities. Evacuees are informed about the different solutions during general counselling sessions.


UNHCR Niger is currently finalizing an agreement with IOM to cover both voluntary repatriation for refugees (those who are rejected for resettlement or complementary pathways) and returns for failed asylum seekers. However, this solution has not been implemented for any of the evacuees so far.


UNHCR Rwanda identified two individuals who expressed initial interest to return to their countries of origin but later changed their mind. The operation has therefore not facilitated any voluntary repatriation or return for any of the evacuees to their countries of origin.


UNHCR in both operations have also not assisted with any return of any evacuee to a first country of asylum, nor yet with any process of local integration.


  1. On what basis are some refugees in Libya resettled directly from that country, while others are relocated to ETM’s in Rwanda and Niger?


  1. The decision to direct an individual or family to an ETM or to direct resettlement is based on the individual profile of the case, the nature and urgency of protection needs and availability of solutions.


In general, where there is an ETM opportunity available in the near future and the protection needs are immediate, the case will be directed to the ETM channel.  Where specific needs require, for example, complex or life-saving medical assistance that is more readily available in a resettlement country, the case is likely to be referred to direct resettlement in order to ensure access to services that may not be available while the individual is in an ETM location.


For resettlement submissions, UNHCR requires full access to individuals in the urban areas to conduct registration, refugee status determination and resettlement. For vulnerable individuals in detention, UNHCR will first advocate for their release. If release cannot be obtained, resettlement cannot be considered and the individual may be identified for evacuation and further processing upon arrival at an ETM.


If individuals have close family links in one of the resettlement countries, UNHCR will aim at reuniting them with these family members. Evacuation or direct resettlement will then be determined by the processing modality of the respective state. Some states have been willing to implement flexible processing modalities (dossier consideration and video conferencing), which allow for direct resettlement from Libya. Other states will require face-to-face interviews, which due to security reasons will only be possible in one of the ETMs.