UNHCR evacuates vulnerable refugees out of Libya as fighting resumes

Refugees Mohamed and Mariam seen outside the detention center from where they were evacuated to Niger

Refugees Mohamed and Mariam seen outside the detention center from where they were evacuated to Niger.  © UNHCR

Amidst an increasingly volatile security situation in Tripoli, UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency successfully evacuated 135 people out of Libya to Niger on Tuesday night (16 October).

Many of the evacuated had been held in detention centres for several months and were suffering from the effects of malnutrition and poor health. They are currently being hosted in UNHCR’s Emergency Transit Mechanism (ETM) until further solutions for them are found.

“These evacuations are a life-changing and life-saving escape for refugees trapped in detention in Libya,” said UNHCR Chief of Mission in Libya Roberto Mignone. “Refugees and migrants in detention centres often suffer squalid conditions and are at risk of being sold to traffickers and smugglers. This shows what a lifeline resettlement can be.”

UNHCR staff endured significant security challenges and restrictions on movement to complete the evacuation as tensions amongst rival militias increase, resulting in intermittent exchanges of fire and rockets falling on Tripoli airport.

The 135 individuals involved were the first to be evacuated from Libya since June, amidst concerns that arrivals to Niger were outpacing the speed at which people were being resettled to third countries.

The successful completion of the evacuation brings the total number of people evacuated from Libya by UNHCR to 1997 since they began in December 2017.

UNHCR is grateful to Libyan authorities for providing access to the evacuees, and welcomes the crucial support of the Government of Niger in hosting the Emergency Transit Mechanism.

On the same day, 85 refugees from Syria, Sudan and Eritrea departed on two flights from Tripoli to Timisoara, Romania, with the assistance of IOM, the UN Migration Agency. They will spend a few weeks at UNHCR’s Emergency Transit Facility before flying onwards to Norway.

UNHCR welcomes the efforts of resettlement countries in coming forward with offers of places for those trapped in Libya. However, with many refugees in Niger in need of further offers of resettlement, and many more in Libya requiring urgent evacuation, UNHCR implores resettlement countries to speed their procedures for further places to become available.

“People are being intercepted off the Libyan coast faster than we can evacuate them,” said Mignone. “We are deeply grateful for all those who have come forward with resettlement places but the simple truth is we need more evacuations, more often.”

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