3-11-2011By Jesse Bernstein
Senior Associate, Refugee Protection Program
As the international community responds to migrants and refugees fleeing Libya, the particular resettlement needs of refugees in Libya must also be prioritized through emergency resettlement to third countries including the United States. Refugees and asylum seekers from a wide range of countries, including Iraq, Sudan and other countries reside in Libya. The majority of these refugees are registered with the UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR, and live in Tripoli or other urban areas. Approximately 8,000 refugees and more than 3,000 asylum seekers may seek to leave Libya as conditions permit, and some of these refugees were at various stages of being processed for resettlement before the current crisis began. Of particular concern is that this week UNHCR raised alarm about ongoing attacks against Sub-Saharan Africans in Libya.
To make resettlement an effective solution for this population, the United States should immediately remove unnecessary processing delays in the resettlement program that continue to hinder the resettlement of refugees from different parts of the world to the United States. In a recent report, Human Rights First outlined the severe impact of these delays on thousands of Iraqi refugees and U.S.-affiliated Iraqis who are slated for U.S. resettlement but who are still waiting in limbo in Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt and within Iraqi itself.
The governments of Tunisia and Egypt have requested that UNHCR provide support – through resettlement – to help meet the rising needs of both refugees and migrants flowing out of Libya. Egypt and Tunisia have limited means to support a population influx, especially given the ongoing unrest in both countries. Although both countries also host existing refugee populations, assistance is highly limited. Egypt, for example, currently hosts some 40,000 registered refugees from Iraq, Sudan, Somalia, Ethiopia and other countries. While some refugees are currently processed for resettlement from Egypt, given the current political changes and fragile environment, resettlement capacity must now increase to absorb rising needs and provide refugees with long-term, sustainable and safe solutions allowing them to rebuild their lives in safe and secure communities.
Human Rights First welcomes the many steps that the United States is taking to provide assistance to those fleeing Libya. The United States is currently at different stages of processing some resettlement submissions of refugees who remain in Libya. As it looks to accept additional refugee cases for resettlement, the U.S. should implement the following recommendations which would enable more timely and effectively resettlement:
- Improve the timeliness of resettlement processing, including through reducing unnecessary delays in the security clearance process. The National Security Council should, together with the Departments of State, Justice, Homeland Security and intelligence agencies, should improve the inter-agency security clearance procedure to enable security checks for refugees and U.S.-affiliated Iraqis to be completed accurately and without unnecessary delays within a set time period;
- Develop and implement an emergency resettlement procedure for refugees facing imminent danger.The Department of Stateshould continue to work with other relevant federal agencies to develop and implement a formal and transparent resettlement procedure for refugees who face emergency or urgent circumstances. This procedure should enable resettlement to take place within a set time period, and facilitate transfers of refugee cases to UNHCR’s Emergency Transit Centers when appropriate.
Human Rights First has also called for Libya and its neighbors to ensure borders in the region remain open. It has also urged increased protection for African migrants within Libya, as well as those who are fleeing. For more information on the legal obligations of states to protect migrants and refugees as they flee Libya, please read Human Rights First recently issued backgrounder on this important issue.