Emmanuel Gignac, UNHCR Chief of Mission in Libya
Just over a year after the launch of the uprising that toppled late Libyan ruler Muammar Gaddafi last August, problems of displacement remain in the North African country while the stream of people from sub-Saharan Africa arriving in Libya on mixed migration routes to Europe is picking up again. Some are refugees and asylum-seekers from countries such as Somalia, Eritrea and Sudan. Emmanuel Gignac arrived in Tripoli last September to head UNHCR office, resume operations and consolidate the agency's presence in the eastern city of Benghazi. UNHCR is waiting to establish a formal agreement with the new authorities, but there are many challenges to tackle, including helping refugees, returnees, the internally displaced and people at risk of statelessness. Gignac talked to UNHCR Web Editor Leo Dobbs in Tripoli about these issues. Excerpts from the interview:
What has been the main focus of UNHCR's work in Libya?
We have been very busy with the [internally] displaced people and third country nationals stranded in the country. That kept us preoccupied until December. Regarding the refugees, we have progressively resumed our activities. We have also been very busy with the Somalis [arriving in Libya on mixed migration routes], who are not yet recognized as refugees because we haven't resumed refugee status determination. And we haven't resumed registration documentation issuance because we're waiting to get our agreement with the authorities. We would like to work directly with the new Libyan authorities [Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Interior] and see how we can assist in finding solutions for refugees.
We are also conducting, through universities, through civil society, sensitization sessions on refugee law, on UNHCR. This is an important area.
What about the refugees?
We have presently registered in our database 9,400 refugees and asylum-seekers. [These people were registered prior to last year's uprising]. The refugees account for about 6,600, while the remaining 2,700 are asylum-seekers. The majority are still here, most of them in Tripoli. Some are in Misrata, some are in Benghazi. From an initial total of 10,600 registered people of concern, some 1,200 left Libya during the uprising and were registered at Choucha camp in Tunisia or Sallum in Egypt.
The largest group of registered refugees is the Iraqis, followed by the Palestinians. Then come Eritreans, Sudanese and Somalis. I believe most of the Iraqis came during [President] Saddam Hussein's rule; we're talking about 3,100 refugees and asylum-seekers. The Palestinians are officially the second largest group, with 2,700, but reports say there could be up to 40,000.
We stopped doing new registrations in June 2010. A crisis arose when the government at the time asked UNHCR to leave the country. A high-level mission came from Geneva and they negotiated a new arrangement which meant we no longer registered, but just looked after the group of people we had already. We still lack an agreement with the authorities.
Read more at: http://www.unhcr.org/4f637acc6.html