Hundreds of stranded African migrants have been airlifted from southern Libya, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said in Geneva on 2 August.
“The operation, which ended on 30 July, provided evacuation assistance to 1,398 vulnerable Chadian migrants and other third-country nationals, including many women, children and [the] elderly, who were forced out of areas around Tripoli, Misrata, Benghazi and Sebha,” IOM spokesman Jean-Philippe Chauzy told journalists.
The migrants were taken to a transit centre in Sebha and then flown to Ndjamena, where they were helped to return to their towns and villages. War-wounded returnees were referred to the International Committee of the Red Cross in the Chadian capital.
“The migrants we found just over a month ago were exhausted after having spent weeks wandering and living in the open with limited access to food, water and health services,” said IOM’s Qasim Suffi, who oversaw the 10 flights.
“This humanitarian airlift provided a way out for all those who simply didn’t have the means or the strength to return home,” he said. “We shall continue to regularly monitor the situation in Sebha to find out if more migrants request evacuation assistance over the coming weeks.”
More than 78,000 Chadians have returned home over the past few months, most of them empty-handed after fleeing and leaving their possessions behind, according to IOM.
Many of their families had relied on the remittances they had been sending back from Libya. Now that these funds have dried up, their families will be even more vulnerable at a time of worsening food insecurity.
Close to 200,000 West Africans have returned to their home countries from Libya, since fighting erupted between Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi and rebels trying to oust him.
In addition, thousands of migrants, most of them from sub-Saharan Africa, have been forced to flee across the Mediterranean in rickety, overcrowded boats. Hundreds are believed to have died in recent months as they sought to make their way to Italy.
On 1 July, Italian media reported that more than two dozen African migrants died in the hold of a crowded boat that made the crossing from Libya to the Italian island of Lampedusa. The 15m boat was reportedly carrying 296 people. Survivors were taken ashore and moved to an refugee shelter.
In April, a boat believed to be carrying up to 300 migrants from Libya capsized, leaving 250 people dead.