UNHCR resumes evacuation flights out of Libya after seven-month suspension

A UNHCR official attends to some of the 153 evacuees before their flight from Libya to Niger on Thursday, 15 October 2020. /Photo courtesy: UNHCR Libya.

The United Nations refugee agency has resumed evacuation flights out of Libya after a seven-month suspension due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

UNHCR on Thursday night evacuated a group of 153 vulnerable refugees and asylum-seekers out of the North African country via Niger.

The evacuees included nationals of Eritrea, Somalia, Sudan, and South Sudan, including 16 families and 15 children under the age of 18, many of whom are unaccompanied or separated from their parents.

In line with health guidelines, the 153 persons were tested for COVID-19 and all turned negative.

Libya has been a departure point for migrants seeking to reach Europe to secure job opportunities or escape conflict and natural disasters.

According to the UNHCR, more than 3,400 migrants and asylum-seekers are currently estimated to be held in government run detention centres in Libya.

Thursday’s evacuation flight was the second in 2020, and it took the total number of evacuees from Libya to 501.

UNHCR said the flight was evidence that evacuations of vulnerable persons out of Libya was possible even with the threat of COVID-19.

By Friday afternoon, Libya had reported 47,845 confirmed cases of COVID-19 with 699 deaths.