UN flies trapped foreign workers out of Tripoli

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The International Organisation for Migration has begun flying foreign workers who had been trapped by the Libyan conflict and are suffering harassment out of Tripoli, a spokesman said Friday.

Jumbe Omari Jumbe told a press conference that 332 migrants from Niger had been repatriated in two flights from the Libyan capital on Tuesday and Wednesday.

"This is the first time we do air evacuation from Tripoli," he said.

The UN body said they were the first of an estimated 2,000 nationals from Libya's southern neighbour to be airlifted out since the defeat of Moamer Kadhafi's regime by forces loyal to the National Transitional Council."

"The IOM team is working closely with National Transitional Council counterparts on the implementation of an interim strategy for the protection and repatriation of stranded migrants in Tripoli and in the southern town of Sabha," it said.

"The evacuation comes at a time when there are growing protection fears for stranded migrants who, in many cases, are exposed on a daily basis to arbitrary detention, harassment and persecution.

"There are also concerns for the health of many migrants sheltering in squalid conditions as cold weather settles in."

"Our biggest challenge now is overcoming obstacles to citizenship verification and issuance of temporary travel documents," a statement quoted Jeremy Haslam, IOM's chief of mission in Libya, as saying.

"We are also obviously concerned by the inherent health risks associated with the change in weather, given that many migrants already live in damp, unhygienic conditions with poor nutrition and lack of access to health services."

IOM is planning further air evacuations for stranded nationals of Gambia, Senegal, Mali, Ghana, Chad and Nigeria who are seeking voluntary repatriation assistance, it added.

"The migrants have been working in Libya in a wide range of employment sectors as casual labourers, unskilled, semi-skilled and tradesmen," the IOM said.

Mainly young men on their own, more than 90 percent of them have no form of identity document.

"To date, IOM and partners has evacuated more 314,000 migrants from Libya by land, sea and air," it said. "Operations are set to continue for several months to assist thousands of migrants who are believed to be still in Libya and who would like to return to their countries."

© 2011 AFP

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