Over 130 refugees airlifted to Niger from Libyan capital

Tripoli: A total of 131 refugees were evacuated to Niger from Tripoli, the United Nations refugee agency said on Thursday – the World Refugee Day – urging states to help it airlift thousands more people to safety from war-torn Libya.

The refugees, from Eritrea, Somalia and Sudan, and including 65 minors, were evacuated from Tripoli late on Wednesday by the Emergency Transit Mechanism in Niger, which is run by the UNCHR.

Some of the refugees had been detained for over a year, the UNCHR said. They will now receive humanitarian assistance at the ETM while further options for them, such as resettlement, are pursued, it said.

“On World Refugee Day, for the first time in a long time, these refugees will be able to sleep at night knowing they and their families are out of harm’s way,” said Jean-Paul Cavalieri, UNHCR mission chief for Libya.

“We cannot underestimate just how important these life-saving evacuations are.”

But more needed to be done, Cavalieri underlined.

With the conflict in Tripoli showing no sign of ebbing, 3,800 refugees and migrants trapped in detention centres remain at risk of being caught up in the deadly clashes between eastern warlord Khalifa Haftar’s forces and militias loyal to the UN-backed government, the UNHCR said.

Rising numbers of people are also being brought to detention centres after being intercepted by the Coast Guard off Libya’s coast, meaning many more places are urgently needed.

“States urgently need to come forward to help us evacuate other vulnerable refugees out of Libya,” Cavalieri underlined, calling on local authorities to free all refugees and asylum-seekers from detention.

The UNHCR said has helped 1,297 vulnerable refugees to leave Libya this year, including 711 who have been airlifted to Niger, 295 to Italy, and 291 who have been resettled to Europe and Canada.

All the refugees airlifted abroad were previously released from detention centres across Libya and sheltered at the UNHCR’s Gathering and Departure Facility in Tripoli, where they received food and medical aid including psycho-social support, as well as clothes and hygiene kits, the UN agency said.