One year since UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, began life-saving evacuations from Libya for the most vulnerable refugees and asylum seekers, almost 2,500 people previously in detention in Libya have now been flown out to Niger, Italy and Romania.
In the latest evacuation, 132 refugees and asylum seekers, including women and children, were flown from Tripoli to Niger yesterday where they are being hosted at a UNHCR Emergency Transit Mechanism while longer-term solutions in third countries are being sought for them.
All the evacuees were previously detained in Triq Al Sikka and Abu Salim detention facilities in Tripoli. Forty-one of them are unaccompanied children.
Most were detained after being intercepted or rescued at sea during attempted crossings from Libya to Europe.
In light of the dangers for refugees and migrants in Libya, UNHCR does not consider it to be a safe place for disembarkation and also has advised against returns to Libya following search and rescues at sea.
“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.
“It is reprehensible that they are detained instead of protected. This is despite the fact that viable alternatives to detention within Libya can be found, including through a Gathering and Departure Facility that we have been waiting to open since July, which could offer immediate protection and safety for those most vulnerable.”
When opened, the Gathering and Departure Facility would be the first of its kind in the country, sheltering vulnerable refugees until they can be got out of Libya. Though the facility is ready for use, UNHCR is still advocating with Libyan authorities for it to be opened.
In light of the difficult circumstances facing refugees and asylum seekers trapped in Libya, UNHCR continues to advocate for alternatives to detention and for more support for evacuations, which remain a crucial lifeline for the most vulnerable.
Despite significant security challenges and restrictions on movements UNHCR has undertaken 23 evacuations from Libya since November 2017. 2,476 vulnerable refugees and asylum-seekers have since been released from detention and evacuated from Libya to Niger (2,069), Italy (312) and Romania (95).
Those evacuated include single mothers, families, people with medical conditions and more than 300 unaccompanied and separated children.
With many refugees remaining in Libya and many in need of urgent evacuation, UNHCR urges more countries to come forward with additional resettlement places.