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Thousands of Trapped Migrants Desperate to Leave Tripoli

Migrant workers from Niger are transported into Misrata port to be evacuated by the IOM (International Organization for Migration) to Benghazi (File)

Migrant workers from Niger are transported into Misrata port to be evacuated by the IOM (International Organization for Migration) to Benghazi (File)

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) reports it is working to evacuate a growing number of migrants in need of help in the Libyan capital, Tripoli. IOM says people, trapped in Tripoli because of fighting on the Western fronts, are desperate to leave the city.

The International Organization for Migration says it is receiving requests for help from foreign migrants stranded in Tripoli. The agency says it does not know how many migrant workers are in the capital, but it believes the numbers are huge.

IOM spokeswoman, Jemini Pandya, says large numbers of Egyptian migrants and nationals from other African countries remain in Tripoli and in the western part of Libya. She says many are feeling extremely vulnerable and are seeking help to go home.

“There are already thousands of Egyptians who are ready for evacuation now and what we are hearing from the ground is that every day there are more and more requests coming from them actually, from the Egyptian community in Tripoli wanting to be evacuated," said Pandya. "We also have requests from a large group of journalists who are also stranded inside Tripoli and they represent many different organizations.”

Libyan rebels fighting to overthrow the regime of Leader Moammar Gadhafi, claim to have captured two strategic coastal cities, Zlitan and Zawiya, which are not far from Tripoli. As the rebels close in on Tripoli, the window of opportunity for evacuating foreign migrants is narrowing.

Since the start of the crisis in late February, IOM has evacuated more than 10,000 migrants by road from Tripoli to the Tunisian border point at Ras Adjir. But, IOM’s Jemini Pandya tells VOA people cannot leave the beleaguered city by road because of the fighting on the Western fronts. She says that option is closed for now.

“It is much too dangerous to go out of Libya using any other road option, any other routes," she said. "Unless you are amongst the group of migrants who are getting on the boats to Lampedusa in that extremely dangerous fashion, you have very limited if actually no option, no alternative. There is no way for you to get out because you cannot get out by air and the sea route is also extremely dangerous. So, those are the reasons predominantly why people cannot get out themselves.”

About 600,000 migrants have left Libya since the conflict broke out in February. Many have been transported home by IOM. The agency is continuing to evacuate migrants wherever it is feasible.

On Friday, an IOM-chartered ship left the eastern Libyan town of Benghazi for Misrata. This was the 15th mission to evacuate migrants, mainly from northern Africa. Pandya says another boatload of migrants will leave Benghazi for Misrata next week.