UNFAIR – the UN Refusal Agency’: Report of the two days of protests in Geneva

This weekend, on the occasion of the 75th International Day of Human Rights of the United Nations, the solidarity alliance formed by ‘Refugees in Libya’ and ‘Solidarity with Refugees in Libya’ reunited in Geneva to demand justice and fair treatment.

The demonstrations took place in front of the UNHCR building, where every day officials of the so-called Refugee Agency make decisions on the lives of millions of vulnerable people around the world.

The first article of the UN Declaration of Human Rights speaks clearly:
“All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and must act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood”.

Yet the UNHCR Libya, for over 100 days, ignored the requests of the group made up of thousands of refugees and asylum seekers who asked to be acknowledged as human beings and be evacuated to safe countries. Furthermore, the UN agency had closed its offices two days before the arrival of Al Khoja, the director of all Libyan detention centers who ordered his militias to set fire to the demonstrators’ tents.

A little over a year after the protests began, the few refugees and asylum seekers who managed to set foot in Europe mobilized and took the protest from Tripoli to Geneva. This time they could not remain unheard.

The mobilizations began on 9 December with a press conference held under a snowy sky and the tent covered with posters and banners denouncing all the injustices committed by the UNHCR.

The first voice on the microphone is that of David Yambio, spokesman for Refugees in Libya: “Today I am here to represent the thousands of people still locked up in concentration camps in Libya. We are talking about people regularly registered as refugees with the UNHCR who have been prevented from having fair access to the asylum process.  The Agency has never been transparent even with respect to its mandate. The proceedings last 10, 20 years. There are children born in Libya who have become adults while waiting.  Over the past 10 years in Libya, at least 45,000 people have registered as refugees. Yet in Tripoli there is only one UNHCR office. How do they think they can help us? And today I still have to listen to the astonished voices of those who ask us why we started the UNFAIR campaign?”.

Immediately afterwards, the word passes to his fellow activist Lam Magok, trapped in Libya for 5 years: “I have been there for 5 years. In Libya, migrants always live in fear.  They live in fear of being kidnapped, killed, tortured.  We are human beings like everyone else.  We are like Ukrainians.  There are no first class and second class migrants“.

Azeb Ambessa, of United4Eritrea and Solidarity with Refugees in Libya, adds: “This transnational movement was born shortly after the start of the protest in Tripoli to amplify the voice and requests of Refugees in Libya even within that European Union, accomplice and sponsor of the torture, killings and rapes that take place every day in detention centers, which are an integral part of the Union’s border regime”.

Finally Muhammad al-Kashef, activist of Alarm Phone and co-founder of Refugees’ Solidarity Movement who recalled how “more than 70 years after the signing of the Geneva Convention on the Status of Refugees, the UNHCR has failed in its mission. Not only in Libya, but also in Sudan, Egypt, Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, Turkey and even in the Greek islands, the UNHCR does nothing”.

The voice from the speaker boxes came through loud and clear this time. In the afternoon, in fact, Alex Tayler – Senior Liaison Officer for the Middle East and North Africa of the UN – invited in a delegation from the presidium made up of David Yambio and Muhammad al-Kashef, who brought all the requests of the UNFAIR campaign to the official’s table – available here: https://unfairagency.org/unhcr/.


Tayler has shown himself sensitive to our requests and both parties have expressed their willingness to embark on a path of dialogue.  We, however, cannot stand still waiting for real signs of discontinuity from the UNHCR. While we are safe here in Europe, thousands of migrants are risking their own skin because of the UN agency’s betrayal of its mandate. Our protests will not subside until our demands on the UNHCR are acted upon.

Despite the freezing temperatures, on the return of the delegation, the gathering continued until late in the evening with spontaneous interventions by representatives of the Afghan, Eritrean and Sudanese communities including Gandhi B., tortured for 8 months in Libyan prisons: “Before disembarking in Italy I was a political opponent of the Al-Bashir dictatorship, a human rights activist in Libya and a witness of numerous crimes committed by Libyan militias. From the moment I set foot in Europe I became just a refugee. We have so many stories to tell you about Libya and the UNHCR, but are you Europeans willing to put up with these truths?”

The evening ended with the screening of video material shot during the 100 days of struggle in Tripoli and with the short film “ABBAS” by the Sudanese director and activist Mustafa Zeyo.

The next day, December 10 (International Day for Human Rights), we met in the Place des Nations, in front of the UN headquarters. The demonstration started here and crossed the city to the rhythm of music and slogans such as “We are here and we will fight – Seeking asylum is everybody’s right!” and “UN Agencies – Stop ghosting refugees”.  

The march was accompanied by spontaneous interventions including that of Snit Tesfamaryam of the Eritreischer Medienbund Schweiz of Zurich: “Every person in the Eritrean diaspora has at least one relative or acquaintance affected by the Libyan militias.  UNHCR, stop this violence!  Our people are already suffering enough from dictator Isaias Afewerki!  “Yiakl!(enough!)” and “Down, down, Isaias”.

The march ended at Place de la Navigation, in the middle of the Paquis district, to an 80% inhabited by foreigners. Here the demonstration ended with various artistic and musical performances,  leaving us with the promise to meet again soon.


In fact, our struggle does not end here.  We will continue to report violations by UNHCR, the European Union and individual member states.  We will continue to denounce the racist and criminal border system which has caused thousands of deaths at Europe’s internal and external borders.


Life is not a lottery: none of us will ever have the power to decide if, when and where to be born.

Freedom of movement is a universal right!


The original article was published on the UNFAIR AGENCY website: