GENEVA (Reuters) – A total of 149 Africans in Libya were evacuated to Italy on Thursday, but more states must help people escape deteriorating conditions in Tripoli after two months of fighting, the United Nations refugee agency said.
Libyan eastern commander Khalifa Haftar’s Libyan National Army began an offensive in early April to take the capital from fighters loyal to Prime Minister Fayez al-Serraj’s Government of National Accord, which is internationally-recognized.
The 149 refugees and asylum-seekers flown to Rome, many of them malnourished and needing medical treatment after detention in Tripoli, are from Eritrea, Somalia, Sudan and Ethiopia, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said in a statement.
The group included 65 children, 13 of them babies under a year old, it said. They follow 62 Syrians and Africans evacuated earlier this week to Timisoara, Romania, where they are receiving treatment before going to Norway, it said.
More than 1,000 refugees and migrants have been evacuated or resettled out of Libya so far this year. Around 1,200 others were returned to the North African country by the Libyan Coast Guard in May alone after being rescued or intercepted while attempting to flee by boat, it added.
Haftar’s Libyan National Army has not been able to breach defenses in southern Tripoli suburbs. But UNHCR said that risks were rising for refugees and migrants, and that “new detainees are arriving at a faster pace than people are departing”.
“More humanitarian evacuations are needed,” said Jean-Paul Cavalieri, UNHCR mission chief in Libya. “They are a vital lifeline for refugees whose only other escape route is to put their lives in the hands of unscrupulous smugglers and traffickers on the Mediterranean Sea.”
Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Andrew Heavens