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UN airlifts 149 refugees, asylum-seekers from Libya to Italy


Rome, May 31 (IANS/AKI) Amid violent clashes and a deteriorating security situation in the Libyan capital, Tripoli, 149 vulnerable refugees and asylum-seekers from the Horn of Africa and Sudan were on Thursday evacuated to Rome, the United Nations refugee agency said in a statement.
The evacuees include 65 children, 13 of them who are less than 12 months old, the UNHCR statement said.
One of the children flown to safety in the Italian capital on Thursday was born just two months ago, according to the statement.
Many of the evacuees need medical treatment and are suffering from malnourishment, according to the statement.
"More humanitarian evacuations are needed," said Jean-Paul Cavalieri, UNHCR Chief of Mission in Libya. "They are a vital lifeline for refugees whose only other escape route is to put their lives in the hands of unscrupulous smugglers and traffickers on the Mediterranean Sea."
The group of refugees were moved from UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency's Gathering and Departure Facility after surviving months in "dire conditions" inside detention centres in other parts of war-wracked Tripoli.
Libyan and Italian authorities cooperated over Thursday's evacuation, said the statement.
Earlier this week, 62 urban refugees from Syria, Sudan and Somalia were also evacuated from Tripoli to UNHCR's Emergency Transit Centre in Timisoara, Romania. The refugees will receive food, clothing and medical treatment before travelling on to Norway.
More than 1,000 refugees and migrants have been evacuated or resettled out of Libya by UNHCR this year, but over 1,200 others were returned to Libya by the Libyan Coast Guard in just May alone after being rescued or intercepted while attempting to flee by boat.
"UNHCR is grateful to States that have come forward with evacuation places however, new detainees are arriving at a faster pace than people are departing," the agency stated, re-launching an appeal to nations to help bring refugees detained in Libya to safety.
More than 83,000 Libyans have been forced to flee their homes since early April as eastern warloard Khalifa Haftar's militia continues to battle forces loyal to the UN-backed government in Tripoli amid fighting and heavy shelling, UNHCR said.
Nearly 600 people have lost their lives in the recent clashes, according to the World Health Organisation. Last week, two ambulance drivers died after being caught up in shelling attacks, WHO said.

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First Published: May 31 2019 | 12:10 AM IST

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