The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) announced the resumption of evacuation flights for refugees and asylum-seekers out of Libya. This is after a seven-month suspension, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In a statement, UNHCR evacuated a group of 153 vulnerable refugees and asylum-seekers out of the North African country, via Niger. The evacuees included nationals of Eritrea, Somalia, Sudan, and South Sudan. This includes 16 families and 15 minors, many of whom are unaccompanied or separated from their parents. In line with health guidelines, the 153 persons were tested for COVID-19, and all proved negative.
The majority of evacuees were living in Tripoli. Virtually all of them (97 per cent) have experienced arbitrary detention in Libya, including in Tajoura, Zintan, or Treeg Al-Sikka detention centres. Some had been detained for more than two years in extremely dire conditions. They were recently released thanks to UNHCR advocacy.
Libya has been a major departure point for migrants seeking to reach Europe. According to UNHCR, an estimated 3,400 are currently held in government run detention centres. Thursday’s evacuation flight was the second in 2020, raising the total number of evacuees to 501. UNHCR said the flight was evidence that evacuations out of Libya are possible, even with the threat of COVID-19.