Vulnerable refugees in Libya need protection

Canadian Council for Refugees

Media release

For immediate release
15 March 2011

Vulnerable refugees in Libya need protection

Canadian organizations today expressed grave concerns about refugees in Libya, some of whom have connections to Canada.

An already bad situation in Libya for refugees has become dramatically worse since the outbreak of the internal conflict. While other foreign nationals fleeing the fighting can be repatriated, refugees, including many from Somalia and Eritrea, have nowhere to go.

Sub-Saharan Africans are particularly vulnerable in Libya. Reports that the Gaddafi regime is using mercenaries from sub-Saharan Africa have reinforced existing racial discrimination, leading to vicious attacks on black Africans. Many refugees are in hiding.

8,000 refugees were registered in Libya with the UNHCR, and 3,000 more are seeking asylum. A significant number are in detention.

Tesfay [not his real name] is living with seven other Eritreans in a room in Tripoli. Four have been accepted in principle for resettlement to Canada. Since the beginning of the revolt they have only once dared leave the room. They give money to an elderly Libyan woman who buys food for them. They are running out of money because it is not safe to go out for work.

Tesfay fled Eritrea over two years ago. He was imprisoned several times in Libya before he was granted a UN refugee identity card. His aunt lives in Saskatoon, and is part of a group sponsoring him.

Some refugees have managed to escape Libya and are stranded in one of the neighbouring countries. Last week the Italian government evacuated 58 Eritreans from Tripoli.

Canada has already been active in its response to the Libyan crisis, including granting $5 million in humanitarian aid. Canadian immigration officials have been working to respond to people in Libya with applications to come to Canada.

The Canadian Council for Refugees calls on the Canadian government to take a leading role internationally to ensure that the response to the Libya crisis gives due priority to the particular needs and vulnerability of refugees.

In particular, the Canadian government should:

  • Work with other governments and international organizations to promote the evacuation and protection of all affected refugees.
  • Include refugees with a pending application to Canada in measures to evacuate Canadian citizens.
  • Fast-track refugee and immigration applications to Canada from refugees affected by the Libyan crisis.

This call is endorsed by the following other organizations: Amnesty International Canada, the Eritrean Canadian Community Centre of Metropolitan Toronto (ECCC), Somali Cause, the Canadian Arab Federation, Jesuit Refugee Service Canada, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Saskatoon, Manitoba Interfaith Immigration Council, Palestine House, Gospel of Love Church (Toronto), the Eritrean community in Nova Scotia, the New Brunswick African Association (NBAA) and the Eritrean Catholic Geez Rite Community Chaplaincy.


Colleen French, Canadian Council for Refugees: 514-277-7223 ext. 1, 514-476-3971 (cell), email

Further information:
UNHCR, Responding to the Libya Crisis,

JRS release, A coordinated EU response to the Libyan crisis is needed now, JRS urges EU governments to prioritise the needs of the most vulnerable refugees, 8 March 2011,

Amnesty International release, Fears grow for Libya migrants as thousands flee, 2 March 2011, AI Index: PRE01/098/201,

Somali Cause release, A Call to Rescue the Stranded Somali Refugees in Libya, 11 March 2011,

Human Rights Concern Eritrea release, The Tragedy of Eritrean Refugees Caught Up in Libyan Uprising, 25 February 2011,