The UN refugee agency and the World Food Programme (WFP) announced Tuesday a joint initiative to feed up to 10,000 refugees and asylum seekers trapped in war-torn Libya amid the coronavirus pandemic.
“The partnership was launched in recognition of the severe socio-economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic in Libya as well as the effects of the ongoing conflict,” UNHCR and WFP said in a statement.
The first distribution of food began on Monday in the Sarraj neighbourhood of Tripoli.
Tens of thousands refugees and asylum seekers, as well as sub-Saharan African and Asian migrants hoping to cross the Mediterranean Sea to Europe, are stranded in Libya in horrifying conditions.
The overthrow and killing of veteran dictator Moamer Kadhafi in a NATO-backed uprising in 2011 sparked years of chaos that traffickers have exploited to turn Libya into a key route for illicit migration towards Europe.
The situation of refugees and asylum seekers became more critical after eastern military strongman Khalifa Haftar launched an assault on Tripoli in 2019, and was further compounded by the coronavirus pandemic.
The UN agencies said aid to these vulnerable people was needed because most “have been unable to find any daily work to support themselves as curfews have been introduced and food prices and the cost of basic goods have dramatically risen”.
“Many refugees say that they are only able to afford to eat one meal a day,” the UN agencies said.
One refugee was quoted as saying: “Every day, I am afraid of death because of hunger.
“I sleep on mats. There are many shops that I want to work in but there is no work. There is nothing in my house other than bread and tea.”
The UNHCR and WFP said refugees and asylum seekers recently released from Libyan detention centres and others from urban centres who struggle to find food will be among those receiving aid.
“The help we’re providing under this project… will be a lifesaver for some of the most vulnerable refugees and asylum seekers in urban areas,” said Jean-Paul Cavalieri, UNHCR’s chief of mission in Libya.