Evacuation of African migrants from Libya's Sabha begins
Over 1,200 African migrants stranded in Sabha, southern Libya, are being evacuated to Chad, ending weeks of uncertainty over their future, the International Organization for Migration said Monday.
The migrants left in a convoy of 15 trucks on Sunday from the largest desert city in Libya and are now on a week-long journey to Zouarke, on the Chadian-Niger border.
At Zouarke, the evacuees will be given fresh supplies of food and water as well as medical care, before being taken to their final destinations in Chad or to their home countries.
More than half of the convoy are Chadians while the rest include migrants from Nigeria, Gambia, Eritrea, Somalia, Sudan, Senegal, Mali, Ethiopia, Burkina Faso and Morocco.
"It has been an extremely worrying few weeks for the migrants. They had been caught in the middle of this conflict for control of Sabha," said IOM Chief of Mission in Chad, Qasim Sufi.
"The fighting had prevented us from getting supplies into our centre in the town and in getting the migrants out. Thankfully, this is no longer the case.
"The migrants are extremely relieved that they will now be able to get home and put this experience behind them," he added.
Amid intense fighting in mid-September, the IOM said about 3,000 migrants had sought refuge at its Sabha transit centre which was running out of food and water.
However, the situation improved after Libya's new rulers on September 21 took over the key southern city, one of the last strongholds of forces loyal to Moamer Kadhafi.
Supplies of food and water have arrived at the IOM transit centre. In addition, the agency was able to secure fuel to get the trucks running.
"It is easier for people to move around now," noted Jemini Pandya, IOM spokeswoman.
As a result, some of the migrants who had sought refuge in the IOM centre during the conflict have since returned to their own accommodation in the town.
Some have also decided to stay in Libya rather than return to their home countries.
"Somalis for example changed their minds about going to Chad. Others have made their own plans," said Pandya.
At the moment, the IOM estimates that several hundred migrants are still awaiting evacuation from Sabha.
Pandya said that "a couple more" convoys will be arranged, although not all would take the same route to Chad.
"Africans will still be going through Chad, but for non-Africans, we will have to look for alternative plans," said Pandya.
Besides Africans, migrants from many other nationalities including Arab countries and Pakistan had sought help from the IOM at the height of the conflict.
© 2011 AFP