IOM starts evacuations of migrants from Libya's Benghazi
The International Organization for Migration said Thursday it had started to evacuate migrants trapped in the Libyan port of Benghazi, the country's second largest city.
"IOM is today beginning its first evacuations of migrants out of the Libyan port city of Benghazi," said the inter-governmental agency.
About 200 women and children, as well as those in need of medical help, will be given priority.
The first evacuees would be taken in small groups by road to the Egyptian border at Salum, "until sea evacuations are organized to Alexandria in Egypt," the IOM added in a statement.
About 5,500 migrants have been identified for evacuation so far. Most are from Bangladesh, India or Sudan, but small groups of Syrians, Ghanians and other nationalities are also waiting for a way out of the revolt-hit country.
The IOM said that many of these migrants had remained in Benghazi until now "because they were afraid or because they were unaware of assistance being offered at the Egyptian border."
"Many of the migrants, particularly those from sub-Saharan Africa do not have documents, which would make it difficult to cross the border," it added.
But the IOM noted that it was crucial to get the Africans out of the country "as quickly as possible" because they are "in dire conditions."
Africans are also particularly vulnerable, as they are being targetted amid rumours that they are being used by Moamer Kadhafi's regime as mercenaries to crush the opposition.
"As the crisis in Libya continues, IOM is being made aware on a daily basis of more and more migrant communities still inside the country unable to get out with an increasing number of ogvernments appealing to the organization to help evacuate their nationals from inside Libya," it said.
Egyptians count among the biggest migrant communities in Libya, and many have made their way back home, or to the Tunisian border with Libya, where thousands are still waiting to cross.
© 2011 AFP