Eritrean refugee Amanuel is inseparable from his drawing pens, whiling away the time by sketching his surroundings and companions, and dreaming of Europe.
The naturally gifted artist, who is deaf and mute, fled to Libya with his cousin Aounif more than a year ago. He claims he was persecuted in his homeland and hoped to reach safety in Europe. However, as they tried to cross the Mediterranean, their boat was intercepted and they have been held in a detention center for the past three months.
The cousins are among 150 refugees evacuated by UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, on a flight to Rome on Wednesday. A day earlier, a plane carrying 128 left for Niamey, Niger.
"We are very happy."
Since November, UNHCR has evacuated more than 1,000 highly vulnerable refugees from Libya and hopes they can be resettled in third countries.
“These evacuations have provided a new chance at life for more than 1,000 refugees who were detained in Libya and suffered tremendously,” said Vincent Cochetel, UNHCR’s special envoy for the Central Mediterranean. “By the end of 2018, we hope to evacuate thousands more.”
With the cooperation of UNHCR’s partners and support from of the Niger government, the 128 refugees flown to Niger on Tuesday are being accommodated in guest houses in Niamey. So far, 770 refugees have been evacuated to Niger, including single mothers, families and unaccompanied and separated children.
The 150 refugees flown to Rome included children and women who had been held captive for long periods of time. In total, 312 refugees have been evacuated to Italy.
Aounif said his cousin hoped he would be able to receive treatment for his deafness in Europe, as well as training to become a professional artist.
Speaking for both of them, Aounif said: “We are very happy, we cannot believe this is happening to us, especially because we tried to go to Italy by sea before.”