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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 17 December 2018

UN calls for action after Libya migrant truck crash

A truck carrying an estimated 300 refugees and migrants crashed in the northwest of the North African country, killing 19 people

Colonel Mohamed Bashir, director of Libya's Illegal Immigration Control Agency, checks on an African mgirant who was injured after their vehicle was overturned during a truck collision, at a hospital in the town of Beni Walid. Mahmud Turkia/ AFP Photo
Colonel Mohamed Bashir, director of Libya's Illegal Immigration Control Agency, checks on an African mgirant who was injured after their vehicle was overturned during a truck collision, at a hospital in the town of Beni Walid. Mahmud Turkia/ AFP Photo

Pressure is mounting on the international community to do more to tackle the migration crisis in Libya following a truck crash on Wednesday, which left 19 people dead.

A truck carrying an estimated 300 refugees and migrants tipped over in the northwest of the North African country.

Smugglers had been attempting to transport the group of migrants to Tarhuna, a town 40 miles southeast of the Libyan capital Tripoli, the UN migration agency (IOM) said.

Overloaded with passengers, survivors said the truck crashed when it drove into a hole in the road. Many of those on board had been crammed into cargo containers.

"Our priority needs to be protecting these migrants and others throughout the country, while making migration through Libya safe and regular," said Othman Belbesi, IOM Libya Chief of Mission.

"One death whether in the desert or at sea is one too many.”

Libya is a major staging post for migrants hoping to reach Europe from the rest of Africa. Of the migrants involved in the truck crash, 138 were Eritrean while the rest were from Somalia and Ethiopia.

The UN evacuated over 1,000 refugees from Libya since November, the organisation’s refugee agency the UNHCR announced on Thursday.

The UNHCR said two flights only this week had taken 278 vulnerable refugees from Tripoli to Rome, Italy and Niamey, Niger.

“These evacuations have provided a new chance at life for more than 1,000 refugees who were detained in Libya and suffered tremendously,” said Vincent Cochetel, UNHCR’s special Envoy for the Central Mediterranean. “By the end of 2018, we hope to evacuate thousands more.”

The agency said it was looking for “durable solutions” in third countries for the 1,084 refugees that have been evacuated. However, Mr Cochetel called on other countries to provide additional places to help with the resettlement process.

“These evacuations are the best example of the impact that international solidarity can have on refugees themselves; however, much more needs to be done. Only 16,940 resettlement places have been received so far for the 15 priority countries of asylum along the Central Mediterranean route, including Libya and Niger.

“We call on all countries to come forth with additional places that will provide a tangible solution for many more refugees who are still in Libya,” said Mr Cochetel.

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Last year 171,635 migrants and refugees entered Europe by sea during 2017, many of which came from Libya, according to statistics by the IOM.

The North African country’s coastline is an attractive prospect for people smugglers because it is largely unpoliced.

A study published last year by the UNHCR found that around half of those travelling to Libya intend to stay there because the country once offered the best employment opportunities in the region.

However, the difficult economic situation since the fall of Muammar Gaddafi has led to many fleeing to Europe instead, risking life and death on the treacherous journey across the Mediterranean.

Migrant arrivals in Europe were far lower in 2017 than in 2016, partly thanks to an agreement made in August between the EU and Italy in which they trained the Libyan coastguard to intercept boats and return the people on board to Libya. The number of arrivals across the region more than halved from 363,504 the year before.

But aid agencies criticised the deal, which has led to a huge increase in the number of migrants being detained, over concerns about conditions in detention centres.

Amnesty International said detainees were at almost certain risk of “torture, rape and even of being killed”.