UN evacuates Libya refugees to Italy in historic first

UN evacuates Libya refugees to Italy in historic first
2 min read
23 December, 2017
Italy has evacuated scores of Yemeni, Somali, Ethiopian, and Eritrean refugees from Libya, which included families, single mothers, and unaccompanied children.
In 2017 alone, over 3,000 migrants have died while making the journey to Europe. [Getty]

A group of 162 refugees were flown on a military jet from Libya to Italy for the first time on Friday in a move hailed as "historic" by Italian Interior Minister Marco Minniti.

Those evacuated came from Yemen, Somalia, Ethiopia, and Eritrea and comprised families, single mothers, unaccompanied children and handicapped people.

"For the first time a humanitarian corridor has been opened from Libya to Europe. It's a start," Minniti said. "Today is a historic day".

Vincent Cochetel, the UNHCR's special envoy for the central Mediterranean, said: "For the first time, we have been able to evacuate extremely vulnerable refugees from Libya directly to Italy.

"Many of those evacuated spoke of great suffering and were kept prisoners by traffickers in inhuman conditions."

Libya has long been a transit hub for migrants seeking a better life in Europe, but people smugglers have stepped up their lucrative business in the chaos since the 2011 revolution.

Migrants transiting through Libya are often subject to appalling conditions, including rape, torture and forced labour. 

Reports in recent weeks of sub-Saharan African migrants being sold as slaves in secret auctions in Libya have caused shock and global condemnation. 

The issue was brought to light by a CNN film crew, who secretly filmed one of the auctions taking place in Libya in late November.

In 2017 alone, over 3,000 migrants have died while making the perilous journey across the Mediterranean, according to the Missing Migrants Project