The UN Refugee Agency UNHCR said it successfully evacuated 135 people from Libya to Niger on the night of Tuesday, October 16, amidst an increasingly volatile security situation in Tripoli. In a statement, UNHCR said many of the evacuated had been held in detention centers for several months and were suffering from the effects of malnutrition and poor health.
The evacuees are currently being hosted in Niger at UNHCR's Emergency Transit Mechanism (ETM) until further solutions for them are found.
First evacuation from Libya since June
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. "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."
To complete the evacuation, UNHCR staff endured significant security challenges and restrictions on movement under increased tensions amongst rival militias, resulting in intermittent exchanges of fire and rockets falling on Tripoli airport.
More evacuations needed
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.
Also on October 16, 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. The refugees will spend a few weeks at UNHCR's Emergency Transit Facility before flying onwards to Norway. Although UNHCR welcomes the efforts of resettlement countries in coming forward with offers of places for those trapped in Libya, it 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."