North Africa Theater
The Turkish parliament voted overwhelmingly Jan. 2 to send troops to Libya, to back up the UN-recognized government in Tripoli, now under siege from an offensive by warlord Khalifa Haftar, who is loyal to the rival government based in the country's east. Lawmakers voted 325-184 in an emergency session to give Ankara a one-year mandate to deploy forces to the North African country. US President Donald Trump responded to the vote by calling his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan, warning him against intervening in the Libyan conflict. Weeks earlier, the US State Department issued a statement calling on Haftar to halt his offensive, and also warned against "Russia's attempts to exploit the conflict." Russia is believed to be backing Haftar. (EuroNews, BBC News, Politico, Al Jazeera)
The UN says it is unable to help most residents of an overcrowded refugee center in the Libyan capital it once touted as a safe haven. To encourage people to go, it is offering money and aid—and even telling them they won't be able to register as refugees to leave the war-torn country if they remain. Originally intended as a temporary residence for a small fraction of refugees—just those already vetted by the UN's refugee agency (UNHCR) and scheduled for evacuation or permanent residency in other countries—the Gathering and Departure Facility (GDF) now has some 1,150 residents, well over its stated capacity. Most arrived over the last eight months of clashes in Tripoli, including 900 who UNHCR says entered "informally"; some even bribed their way in. As the fighting has intensified, numbers in the center have risen and many of the people inside are hoping for—or demanding—a way out of the country, even though the UN says it can't offer that to everyone.
The UN's holding facility for undocumented migrants in Libya was unveiled last year as an "alternative to detention," but critics say it is coming to mirror the notoriously harsh detention centers it was supposed to replace. The Tripoli facility is overcrowded with nearly 1,200 migrants—about twice the number it was built for—including hundreds who fled from abuse at other detention centers in hopes of sanctuary. Conditions inside are deteriorating fast, and there are accusations that the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, is planning to force migrants, refugees and asylum-seekers to leave by cutting off food (a claim the agency denies). The people inside are among an estimated 600,000 migrants in Libya, including more than 45,000 registered refugees and asylum-seekers. Some have come in search of work, others are hoping to make the incredibly dangerous trip to Europe. Those who risk it are often "rescued" by the Libyan coast guard and returned to land, and end up in the country's oppressive detention centers—which is among the reasons a recent French plan to give the Libyan coast guard more boats met with strong opposition. (The New Humanitarian, AP, Dec. 6)
With the forces of eastern strongman Khalifa Hifter stalled outside Tripoli in his drive to oust Libya's Government of National Accord (GNA), both sides have been sniping at each other with drone strikes. Experts say that Haftar has procured Chinese-made Wing Loong drones from his main backer, the United Arab Emirates. The GNA, meanwhile, has turned to Ankara, its own increasingly open backer, which is believed to be supplying Turkish Bayraktar drones. All of this is in defiance of a supposed arms embargo, just renewed by the UN Security Council in June. Over 1,000 have been killed, close to 6,000 injured, and 120,000 displaced in the battle for Tripoli, which opened a year ago. (SCMP, Spet. 19)
The government of Rwanda, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and the African Union on Sept. 10 signed a memorandum of understanding to set up a transit mechanism for evacuating refugees out of Libya. According to a joint statement, around 4,700 people are currently being held in detention centers in Libya and urgently need to be transferred to safety. Under the agreement, refugees and asylum-seekers currently being held in Libya will be transferred to Rwanda on a "voluntary" basis. Evacuees will then either be resettled to third countries, be helped to return to countries where asylum had previously been granted, be returned to their home countries if it is safe to do so, or be given permission to remain in Rwanda subject to agreement by the competent authorities.
UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres is calling for an independent investigation of the "outrageous" bombing of a migrant detention center at Tajoura, outside Libya's capital Tripoli July 2. The attack killed at least 44 migrants and refugees, including women and children, and injured more than 130. Guterres noted that the UN had given its exact coordinates to the warring parties in the ongoing Libyan conflict. This was also emphasized by the United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR, which said in a statement: "Coordinates of such centres in Tripoli are well known to combatants, who also know those detained at Tajoura are civilians." UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet said, with requisite caution: "This attack may, depending on the precise circumstances, amount to a war crime."
For the past two weeks, thousands of protesters across Algeria have defied attempts by the security forces to seize Amazigh (Berber) flags after army chief Ahmed Gaïd Salah declared that only the national flag would be permitted in the ongoing pro-democracy demonstrations. Police used tasers against protesters in the capital Algiers June 30, and made numerous arrests. Among those arrested for wearing a t-shirt with the Amazigh national symbol was 25-year old Samira Messouci, an elected member of the People's Assembly (regional parliament) in Tizi Ouzou wilaya (province). The Assembly has issued a statement demanding his release. (El Watan, MENA Solidarity Network)
Libya's weak UN-backed government is bracing for an offensive on Tripoli by the country's strong eastern warlord Khalifa Haftar, generally referred to as a "renegade general." Haftar ordered his "Libyan National Army" forces amassed on the outskirts to advance on Tripoli and "conquer" it whether by peaceful means or force. Militias loyal to the "official" government are scrambling to erect defenses. (Libyan Express, Al Jazeera) Tellingly, the newly-formed Western Region coalition of anti-Hafter forces are calling their operation to defend the capital "Wadi [Ouadi] Doum 2." This is a reference to an airstrip built by Qaddafi in northern Chad to support local rebels, where Hafter was defeated and captured by Chadian government forces in 1987, in an operation backed by French support. (Libya Herald) Today, the tables have turned, and both France and Hafter oppose the rebels fighting the current Chadian government. Several hundred fighters from Chad's rebel Union of Forces for Democracy and Development (UFDD) were expelled from southern Libya by Hafter's LNA last month, and reportedly surrendered to the French-backed Chadian military. (Defense Post)