Eritrean refugees evacuated from Libya to Niger

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said it has evacuated 159 Eritrean asylum-seekers from Libya’s Tripoli airport to a transit centre in Niamey on 13 February 2019, where they will stay until they can be resettled.

The first evacuations for 2019 started on 28 January when 130 refugees and asylum seekers were flown from Libya to Niger. This year has also seen another 93 Syrian, Eritrean and Sudanese refugees and asylum seekers evacuated to Romania to await resettlement in another country.

UNHCR reported that the refugees and asylum seekers were released from different detention centres across Libya, most of which are overcrowded and lacking basic health and safety standards.

“After four years in Libya languishing in traffickers’ hangars first, and then in detention centres, I felt the most precious years of my life were lost, but my prayers were finally answered and my life starts again today,” said Angesom, a young Eritrean man.

A total of 3,175 refugees and asylum seekers have been evacuated from Libya since the start of the evacuations in late 2017: 2,491 of them to Niger, 415 to Italy, and 269 to Romania,. Unaccompanied children make up 148 of those evacuated remaining in Niger. At least 6,205 migrants and refugees remain in detention in government centres in western Libya.

“The overwhelming majority of migrants and refugees are arbitrarily detained as they have never been charged or tried under Libya’s migration legislation,” according to a UN report on the human rights of refugees and migrants in Libya, released in December 2018.  It goes on to say that, “Foreign nationals in vulnerable situations, including survivors of trafficking and refugees, are among those subjected to mandatory and indefinite arbitrary detention.”

Migrants are confined in overcrowded, unhygienic structures, which were not built for human habitation, where they suffer abuse and violence until Libyan authorities forcibly deport them, or UN agencies return or evacuate them.

In 2018, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) returned 16,753 irregular migrants from Libya to 32 countries in Africa and Asia. More than 30,000 migrants have been returned since 2017.

As of 18 February 2019, a total of 56,588 asylum seekers and refugees are registered with UNHCR in Libya, 4,194 of whom have been identified as persons of concern.

By the end of 2018 there were at least 663,445 migrants in Libya, 94 per cent of whom originated from African countries, according to IOM.

TMP – 05/03/2019

Photo credit: Adisron Chaisan/ Shutterstock

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