UN Refugee Agency evacuates women, children from Libya

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Migrants in a migrant detention centre in Libya. Photo: UN Migration Agency (IOM)/2017

More than two dozen "extremely vulnerable" people have been evacuated from Libya to Niger so they can be resettled, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) has said, in the first operation of its kind.

Since the overthrow of Libya's President Muammar Ghadaffi in 2011, the North African state has been beset by violence.

It has also become a haven for people smugglers, who prey on migrants trying to get to Europe by crossing the Mediterranean Sea, often on flimsy inflatable vessels.

Natalie Hutchison has more.

Thousands of migrants and refugees are believed to be held in illegal and official detention centres in Libya; on Saturday, UNHCR managed to evacuate 25 of those most in need of help.

The development is potentially significant because it means that their resettlement claims can be assessed outside Libya, by representatives of countries that are prepared to give them a new home.

Announcing the operation, the UN Refugee Agency said that the individuals included 15 women and four children.

They had come from Eritrea, Ethiopia and Sudan, and they will now wait in Niger while their resettlement claims are processed.

UNHCR spokesperson Cécile Pouilly welcomed what she called the "fantastic gesture of solidarity" shown by Niger towards Libya.

But she cautioned that such initiatives would remain "limited" for as long as the international community failed to agree to more regular and safe ways for refugees to find safety and international protection, and to address the root causes and drivers of refugee displacement.

"We do hope to carry out more evacuations in the near future but this will all depend on the resettlement commitments that we receive and they remain clearly insufficient. The High Commissioner sent an urgent call a couple of months ago for 40,000 additional places along the routes leading to the central Med and so far this call has only been partially met."

According to the UN migration agency, IOM, nearly 3,000 people have lost their lives trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea to Europe so far this year.

Natalie Hutchison, United Nations.

Duration:  1’30″

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