GENEVA - The U.N. refugee agency says it has been forced to temporarily suspend an operation to resettle African refugees evacuated from Libya to Niger because too few countries have agreed to accept them.
In November, Niger agreed to accept, on a transit basis, Africans evacuated by the U.N. refugee agency from Libya for resettlement in third countries. The UNHCR says it has managed to evacuate 1,400 from Libya since December.
The African refugees had been held under terrible conditions in detention centers run by the Libyan government of national accord.
Vincent Cochetel, UNHCR’s special envoy for the Central Mediterranean Situation, says his organization would like to evacuate more people from Libya, but the government of Niger has suspended the operation because there are too few resettlement departures. For now, Cochetel says, the UNHCR has no solution to this problem because only 30 resettlement locations are available. He says that is not enough.
“So, we have been calling on resettlement states to do more to evacuate very quickly the thousands of people that are going to Niger because, unless we have this space, people will have to continue to rot in appalling conditions in detention centers. We have no other solution available to us,” Cochetel said.
Hundreds of thousands of migrants from sub-Saharan Africa make the dangerous trek to Libya in hopes of reaching Europe and a better life. Currently, the U.N. migration agency estimates more than 700,000 migrants, including at least 47,000 refugees, in need of protection, are in Libya.
Many never make it to Italy, the main port of call, because they are held in detention centers run by Libyan authorities or by smugglers and human traffickers who kidnap and torture migrants for ransom.
The UNHCR is appealing for nearly $227 million for humanitarian operations in the central Mediterranean this year. Cochetel says some of the funds could be used to try to deter refugees from making the desperate journey to Libya by offering alternate options for asylum in countries they pass through en route to Libya.