Libya: Residents of Tawergha ‘dying in desert’ in attempt to return home after seven years

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Libya must ensure the safety of hundreds of former residents of the northern town of Tawergha, who are stranded and even dying in the desert despite an agreement allowing their safe return, a UN human rights expert has said.

The entire population of around 40,000 people was forcibly evacuated in 2011 as collective punishment for their perceived support for deposed leader Muammar Gaddafi. Their return, in line with the government-endorsed agreement, has been blocked by armed groups.

“I am appalled at the news that thousands of people from Tawergha, who have already had to face seven hard years away from their homes, are being barred from returning and are being forced to live in makeshift shelters in the desert,” said Cecilia Jimenez-Damary, Special Rapporteur on the human rights of internally displaced persons.

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“Two men have died already following strokes, possibly as a result of the harsh weather conditions with temperatures dropping close to zero degrees at night. Many children, women and men stranded in the desert are suffering from extremely poor living conditions such as poor sanitation, lack of health facilities, shortage of medicine and limited drinking water.

“It is critical that the Libyan Government, as well as the UN and NGOs, act to ensure that no more lives are lost as a result of this situation and that the Tawerghan people are allowed to reach their homes in safety and dignity.”

Around 200 families are camped out in makeshift tents in Qararet al-Qatef near Tawergha, while others are living in tents or public halls in nearby towns.

“Although some of the families camped out in the desert are receiving assistance from the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), it is essential for Libya to fulfil its international obligation to protect and help them,” the Special Rapporteur stated.

“The UN’s Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement make clear it is the primary duty and responsibility of the national authorities to provide humanitarian assistance to address people’s most urgent needs, in order to support them in achieving durable solutions – in this case supporting their return to and reintegration in their place of origin.”

Local authorities and armed groups from nearby Misrata blocked the Tawerghans’ return, despite an agreement between representatives from the two areas for the long-anticipated process to start on 1 February.

“Although the agreement was endorsed by the Government of National Accord, the returning Tawerghans were met with threats of violence by armed groups and local authorities and were prevented from entering their town,” she said.

“The town has been uninhabitable for the past seven years as a result of deliberate destruction by armed groups from Misrata, and it is crucial that the government ensures that sustainable conditions are in place for Tawerghans to rebuild their lives there,” she added.

One of Ms. Jimenez-Damary’s main recommendations after visiting Libya in January was for the Government to develop a national roadmap which would clearly define roles and improve coordination of dedicated Ministries and organizations, to ensure that people forced from their homes receive all necessary and effective protection and assistance.

“Lasting solutions must be found for all those affected by displacement in Libya, including those from Tawergha,” Ms. Jimenez-Damary said.

The Special Rapporteur, the first special procedure of the UN Human Rights Council to undertake a country mission to Libya, will present a report on her visit to the Human Rights Council in June 2018. 

Distributed by APO Group on behalf of Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).

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Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR)
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