On Thursday 7 November, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) helped survivors of another maritime incident off the Libyan shores in the proximity of Ajdabyia in East Libya. 240 passengers survived while three persons died at sea, two Eritreans and one Egyptian. They were exhausted and in a state of shock. UNHCR dispatched emergency and life-saving assistance to the survivors, all from Eritrea, including 171 men, 58 women, 6 of whom were pregnant, and 9 children.
On Wednesday UNHCR was informed by the Libyan authorities that a boat carrying Eritreans was stranded on the shore near Ajdabyia. Forty-five hours after departing from the Libyan coastal town of Bisch, near Sirte, the engine broke and the boat found itself at the mercy of the sea until it was able to return to Libya. Libyan authorities intervened upon disembarkation and survivors were taken to Ajdabyia detention centre managed by the Department of Combating Illegal Migration (DCIM).
During its mission to Ajdabyia, UNHCR assessed protection needs and provided immediate assistance to survivors in collaboration with its implementing partner CESVI (the Italian NGO, Cooperazione e Sviluppo). Survivors did not have enough clothes. Many were barefoot and some showed symptoms of serious medical conditions. UNHCR distributed 451 blankets, 400 jerry cans, 85 hygiene kits, 19 heaters and 5 cans of disinfectant.
Survivors told UNHCR that the price they paid to reach Libya from Sudan was US$1,000 while for the sea-crossing they paid US$2,300 each. Before departing, the group of Eritreans stayed in the house of the smugglers for 4 months.
Overall, as of October 2013, over 22,000 persons departed Libya in an irregular manner by sea. Approximately, 60% of persons departing by boat from North Africa are either refugees or asylum seekers. They are seeking protection elsewhere since the government of Libya has not yet established a protection system in the country. In the absence of an asylum system in Libya, refugees and asylum seekers fall prey to traffickers and smugglers as they seek to go undetected and avoid detention in Libya.
In Libya, UNHCR is advocating for the expansion of the protection space so that asylum seekers and refugees can access protection solutions. Pending the formalization of relations with the government, the office is not able to discharge fully and systematically its core activities such as refugee status determination and durable solutions. In the absence of an asylum framework and in order to increase awareness on the needs and rights of refugees and asylum seekers, UNHCR is training government officials and the Coast Guard on international protection instruments.