This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Babar Baloch – to whom quoted text may be attributed – at today’s press briefing at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.
UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, has evacuated yesterday evening (Thursday 19 Nov) a group of 79 vulnerable asylum-seekers out of Libya to safety in Rwanda. These critical, life-saving flights from Libya to Rwanda had been on hold for nearly a year because of COVID-19-related worldwide border closures and movement restrictions.
The group evacuated last night follows 306 other refugees brought to safety so far, thanks to the Emergency Transit Mechanism (ETM), agreed and set up in mid-2019 by the Government of Rwanda, UNHCR and the African Union.
The UNHCR-chartered flight, which took off from the Libyan capital, Tripoli, yesterday afternoon, landed safely at Kigali International Airport at 10PM local time. The group included men, women, and children from Eritrea, Sudan and Somalia. Most were living in Tripoli, but many had previously been held in detention, some for several years.
These evacuation flights are a vital lifeline for refugees and asylum seekers trapped in Libya. The ETM gives hope and provides a safe and organized pathway to longer-term solutions. However, the number of places available through the ETM and other humanitarian evacuation flights is still insufficient. UNHCR advocates for more countries to take part and offer more places for the most vulnerable refugees.
In the absence of legal pathways, desperate people continue to embark on dangerous journeys by sea, leading to the tragic loss of life. In the last week alone, an estimated 114 refugees and migrants have drowned or gone missing in four shipwrecks recorded off the Libyan coast.
Asylum-seekers evacuated from Libya have been taken to the transit facility in Gashora, where UNHCR is providing them with assistance including shelter, food, water, medical care, psycho-social support, language courses. The group will stay at the transit facility while solutions are sought for them, including resettlement, voluntary return to countries of previous asylum or to countries of origin where it is safe to do so, or integration with local Rwandan communities.
With this latest evacuation, 581 vulnerable refugees and asylum-seekers have been taken out of Libya this year, including 221 via resettlement. Currently, more than 45,200 refugees and asylum seekers are registered with UNHCR in Libya, including nearly 670 held in government-run detention centres.
UNHCR reiterates its call for the orderly release of all refugees and asylum-seekers from arbitrary detention.
Link to B-roll and multimedia is here.
For more information on this topic, please contact:
- In Kigali: Elise Villechalane, firstname.lastname@example.org, +250 788 315 198
- In Tunis: Caroline Gluck, email@example.com, +216 299 25506
- In Tunis: Tarik Argaz, firstname.lastname@example.org, +216 29 9612 95
- In Amman (regional), Andreas Kirchhof, email@example.com, +962 791 825 473
- In Geneva: Andrej Mahecic, firstname.lastname@example.org, +41796429709
Originally published by UNHCR on 20 November 2020.