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Evacuation Difficult for Sub-Saharan Migrants in Libyan Town

  • Joe DeCapua

African migrant workers are seen at a farm where they had been hiding from rebel forces in Tripoli, Libya, August 28, 2011.

African migrant workers are seen at a farm where they had been hiding from rebel forces in Tripoli, Libya, August 28, 2011.

More than 1,200 sub-Saharan African migrants are seeking refuge in the southwestern Libyan town of Sebha. Warring parties are being called on to ensure no harm comes to them.

The International Organization for Migration says the migrants are at an IOM transit center. Most are Chadians, but there are others from Niger and Nigeria. Sebha is currently held by supporters of Moammar Gadhafi, but is surrounded by those fighting on behalf of the National Transitional Council (NTC).

“[They] are obviously very concerned about their security and want to be evacuated as soon as possible,” said IOM spokesman Jean-Philippe Chauzy.

In July the IOM airlifted nearly 1,400 Chadian and other migrants from Sebha. Many were women, children and elderly who had fled fighting in other parts of the country.

“We call upon the warring parties to ensure adequate protection. And then of course we’d like to be able to provide some assistance, particularly evacuation assistance, for those migrants,” said Chauzy.

Dire situation

Sebha is reported to have no electricity or fuel and little food and water.

“The situation in the town is dire,” he said, “The town is besieged. So yes, there are major problems in terms of sufficient food and water provisions, medical assistance.”

The IOM had lost contact with the town for several weeks and said it appeared communications had been intentionally cut.

“That being said, we have now confirmation from the Chadian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, also from our sources inside Sebha, that those migrants are now in dire straits and are desperate to be evacuated,” he said.

Surrounded

Pro-NTC forces could attack the town soon.

“We simply don’t know. The likelihood of an assault on Sebha is always there and if that happens then obviously I suspect very strongly that the airport would be a strategic objective,” he said.

An assault on the airport would prevent evacuating the migrants by plane.

“So we have to look at other options, including an evacuation by road. But we have to be realistic. We need to get firm guarantees from the warring parties that we will be able, not just to access those people, but evacuate them safely by road. And that’s quite a challenge we’re working on at the moment,” said Chauzy.

The IOM is sending a high-level delegation to both Tripoli and Benghazi to discuss the migrant situation.

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