Tripoli, May 11 (IANS/AKI) The United Nations refugee agency on Thursday said it had airlifted 132 vulnerable refugees and asylum-seekers from Libya to Niger – the first group since the evacuation programme was halted in March due to concerns by Niger’s government at the pace of resettlements.
“Refugees in detention in Libya are languishing in extreme conditions that threaten their life and well-being,” said Vincent Cochetel, UNHCR’s Special Envoy for the Central Mediterranean Situation.
“So this programme is really about saving vulnerable individuals from further harm,” he said.
The 132 refugees and asylum-seekers were flown from Tripoli to Niger’s capital, where the government has offered to take up to 1,500 refugees under the programme run by UNHCR in Niamey with financial support from the European Union, the UN agency said.
“We now urgently need to find resettlement solutions for these refugees in other countries,” Cochetel said.
UNHCR said additional evacuations are being planned and will include refugees held in various detention centres in Libya – whose dire conditions have continued to draw criticism from the UN and human rights groups.
UNHCR has processed 477 cases for resettlement directly from Libya to other countries as part of measures to offer viable alternatives to the perilous journeys undertaken by refugees and migrants from Libya to Italy, said the agency.
UNHCR’s humanitarian evacuation programme was temporarily halted in early March, following concerns from Niger’s government that onward departures for resettlement in other countries were not keeping up with the pace of arrivals into Niger, according to the agency.
With support from the EU and Libyan authorities, UNHCR since November evacuated 1,474 people from detention centres in Libya including single mothers, families and unaccompanied and separated children.
The 1,474 vulnerable refugees and asylum-seekers were relocated to Niger (1,152), Italy (312) and Romania (10), UNHCR said.