Last night a group of 153 vulnerable refugees and asylum-seekers have been evacuated out of Libya to the Emergency Transit Mechanism (ETM) in Niger. This UNHCR-chartered flight marks the resumption of life-saving evacuations from Libya, ending a seven-month long suspension. Humanitarian flights had to be halted in March, due to public health concerns related to the Coronavirus pandemic, which led to the suspension of air traffic in many countries.
With COVID-19 cases continuing to rise in Libya, and some 46,000 confirmed cases across the country, all passengers tested negative prior to departure. They were also given counselling and awareness sessions on how to stay protected and healthy. The group is now undergoing a two-week quarantine in Niger and a further test, in line with health measures to curb the spread of Coronavirus.
UNHCR has registered 45,661 refugees and asylum-seekers in Libya and more than 3,400 migrants and asylum-seekers are currently estimated to be held in government run detention centres in Libya, where conditions are dire and many are at risk of serious abuse. The resumption of evacuation flights is especially important now, given the volatile situation in Libya, the rapid spread of Coronavirus and its health and socio-economic impact on refugees and asylum seekers, who have found it increasingly difficult to support themselves and their families.
In Niger, the evacuated refugees are now receiving humanitarian assistance at the Emergency Transit Mechanism, including shelter, food, medical care and daily courses and activities while efforts to find solutions, such as resettlement, continue. The ETM in Niger has been operational since 2017, with EUTF support. Thanks to the support of the Nigerien authorities, UNHCR has been able to evacuate from Libya to Niger 3,165 vulnerable asylum-seekers over the past three years. In 2020, with this second evacuation, UNHCR has assisted 501 vulnerable refugees out of Libya, including 221 who have been resettled to Europe.