UNHCR flight evacuates 132 refugees from Libya detention
TRIPOLI, Libya – On Thursday, a smiling Abdul Karim was unable to hide his excitement as he clutched his boarding pass, ready to join 131 other refugees on a flight out of Tripoli to Niger’s capital Niamey.
“My life starts today,” said the Somali refugee, his hopes of a better future suddenly reawakened. “I want to study hard and make a difference in the world. I want to be a good member of the community.”
A year after UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, began life-saving evacuations for vulnerable refugees and asylum seekers out of Libya, almost 2,500 people who have been held in detention in Libya have now been evacuated to Niger, Italy and Romania.
In the latest evacuation yesterday, 132 refugees and asylum-seekers, including women and children, were flown from Tripoli to Niger. In Niger, they will be hosted at a UNHCR Emergency Transit Mechanism while longer-term solutions in third countries are sought for them.
Abdul Karim and the other evacuees were previously held in Triq Al Sikka and Abu Salim detention facilities in Libya. Forty-one of those evacuated yesterday were unaccompanied children. Most were detained after being intercepted or rescued at sea during attempted crossings from Libya to Europe.
“Refugees in Libya are faced with a nightmarish scenario. They have fled their homes in search of safety and protection only to end up incarcerated, languishing indefinitely in squalid conditions,” said Roberto Mignone, UNHCR’s Chief of Mission in Libya.
"Refugees in Libya are faced with a nightmarish scenario."
Despite significant security challenges and restrictions on movement to complete these evacuations, UNHCR has undertaken 23 of evacuations from Libya since November 2017.
Despite ongoing instability, Libya remains a major transit country for people fleeing conflict and instability in other parts of Africa and the Middle East.
When he fled insecurity in his native Somalia more than a year ago, Abdul Karim dreamt of reaching Europe and enrolling in university. But his life soon turned into a waking nightmare when he found himself trapped in Libya, initially in the hands of unscrupulous smugglers and then in a detention centre in the capital Tripoli.
Despite his ordeal, Abdul Karim insisted that leaving Somalia in search of a better life was the only option left to him. “It was the only way to be safe and to eventually help my family,” he explained.
Also on Thursday’s flight was 28-year-old Marharit, a refugee from Eritrea who spent two years in Libya with her three-year-old daughter, in detention and with smugglers. She said her only goal was to find refuge in a safe country where she could raise her daughter in peace.
“Today I am changing my life and that of my daughter. I am very happy.”