Evacuate Refugees from Libyan War Zones

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The Need: Refugees trapped in Libyan prisons amid an escalating civil war are begging the outside world to save their lives. They escaped war zones and fled persecution in their own homelands, and are seeking nothing more than protection and life with dignity. However, in Libya they have been left to die without protection, in a war zone from which they cannot flee. The U.S. State Department must act quickly to support evacuations of these innocent people from harm and save their lives.

The Story: Clashes between government forces and rebel militias are raging in Libya for the third time in 7 months. Over 10,000 Libyans have been displaced, but one group who have been unable to flee are the 6,000 refugees from Eritrea, Sudan and Somalia who are locked inside Libyan detention centers for simply seeking protection. About 3,000 of these refugees are currently trapped in areas of active combat, and their lives are at a great danger. Just today, militia soldiers entered the prison complex of Qaser Bin Ghashir and shot into the crowd of men, women and children, killing two refugees and wounding 10 more. The refugees must tend to the wounds of the injured themselves, as no medical aid has been able to reach them.

The refugees have just one lifeline in this nightmare: cell phones they managed to smuggle into their prisons. They use these phones to communicate with the outside world, sending messages of desperation to anyone who is willing to listen. Their messages are dire: there is barely any food, and children have perished as a result.  All of the guards have fled leaving them vulnerable to kidnappings by armed militias who want to use them as human shields or slave laborers, or by human traffickers who torture them to coerce ransom payments from their loved ones abroad.

Those who are held in these prisons are regular men, women and children who had no choice but to flee their homes because of violence and persecution in their countries. One man, whose name is withheld to protect his identity, was forced to flee the Darfur region of Sudan when Janjaweed militants burned his village down and massacred his friends and neighbors. He was then kidnapped by smugglers who spent a year torturing him to coerce ransom payment from his family until the Libyan army liberated him last year and brought him directly to prison.

Another man from Eritrea fled to save his family’s lives when the regime’s army tried to hold him as a political prisoner without trial. Upon reaching Sudan, he was kidnapped and sold to traffickers who tortured him for money. Finally, they put him in a boat to cross the Mediterranean Sea but the Libyan coast guard intercepted them, sending him directly to prison. He has not seen his wife or son in almost five years, and worries his child will grow up fatherless.

The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) has only been able to successfully evacuate 500 people so far. This is an important start, but is just a small drop in the bucket. The international community needs to intervene now to save the lives of thousands more people who are still trapped in a war zone. The refugees know that the only solution is to be evacuated - and not just to other prisons in Libya where the conditions are equally dire or worse.

A few months ago, I received my first message from a refugee in Libya. The stories he told left me in horror and disbelief, but as I got to know him and the other detainees my fear turned into a need to act. They have asked me to help share their stories with the world, in the hopes that help will come if their stories are heard. And now, I’m asking for your help.

By signing this petition, you have the opportunity to send two messages. First, your signature will implore the U.S. State Department to support large-scale evacuations of refugees out of Libya. And second, you will send a message of support and hope the thousands of innocent people trapped in another country’s war zone, to remind them that the world has not abandoned them to die alone.