A group of 162 refugees has been flown from migrant detention facilities in Libya to Italy for the first time, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) said Saturday.
The refugees from Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia and Yemen were held in inhumane conditions and subject to abuse by smugglers, traffickers and others, UNHCR said.
“For the first time, we have been able to evacuate vulnerable refugees straight from Libya to Italy. This is really ground-breaking and a much welcome development,” said Vincent Cochetel, UNHCR’s Special Envoy for the Central Mediterranean Situation.
In Italy, the refugees will be transferred to several reception centers and looked after by church charity Caritas.
The EU has come under fire from rights groups over the status of thousands of migrants stuck in detention facilities in Libya.
Led by Italy, the EU has been providing technical and financial support to the Libyan coast guard and immigration authorities in a bid to stop migrants from using Libya as a launch pad to reach Europe with the help of human smugglers.
Compared to last year, there has been a one-third drop in migrant arrivals to Italy through the central Mediterranean in 2017. Much of the drop has been since this summer, when Italy expanded its cooperation with Libya.
At least 20,000 migrants have been put in overcrowded and unsanitary detention centers in Libyan government controlled areas. The UN hopes to transport several thousand migrants stranded in Libya either to third-countries or to their countries of origin.
Some 44,300 refugees have been registered by the UNHCR in Libya, but thousands of other migrants may also be eligible for refugee status if they apply.
More than 400,000 migrants are believed to be in Libya, including in areas outside government control, according to the International Organization for Migration.
More than 3,100 migrants have died on the central Mediterranean route trying to reach Europe this year.
cw/bk (AFP, dpa, KNA, Reuters)