A group of 25 refugees have been evacuated from Libya to Niger to have resettlement claims processed, in the first operation of its kind from the North African country, the United Nations said on Sunday. The move is part of efforts to provide protection for refugees and other vulnerable migrants who travel to Libya, often intending to attempt the dangerous sea crossing to Italy.
Many are trapped in smuggling networks or detention centers where they are exposed to a range of abuses including rape and torture that have been widely documented by human rights organizations and U.N. agencies.
About 43,000 refugees and asylum seekers registered by U.N. refugee agency UNHCR are now in Libya. It is hard to resettle refugees directly from Libya partly because most countries closed their embassies in Tripoli after fighting escalated there in 2014.
The initial group evacuated by air from Tripoli to Niamey on Saturday was made up of 15 women, six men and four children from Eritrea, Ethiopia and Sudan, according to the United Nations.
"Today's evacuation symbolizes hope in finding safe solutions for vulnerable refugees in Libya," Roberto Mignone, the UNHCR representative for Libya, said in a statement.
The operation was the result of a joint initiative by UNHCR and the governments of Libya and Niger, and Niger has agreed to host the group until their claims to be resettled in third countries are dealt with, it said. The International Organization for Migration carries out voluntary repatriations of migrants from Libya, flying home more than 10,600 so far this year.