As thousands of people continue to flee the conflict in Libya on a daily basis, there is increasing concern at the plight of mainly Chadian migrants arriving in the remote northern desert towns of Faya and Kalait.
Of the more than 710,000 people who have crossed the borders with Libya's neighbours or who have arrived by boat in Italy and Malta, nearly 23,000 have arrived on trucks and lorries in northern Chad with more arriving daily.
IOM staff at Faya report that although on average three large vehicles arrive in Faya every day carrying up to 150 people each, 14 trucks reached the town on one day alone earlier this week, overwhelming local capacity to help them.
Another 14 trucks carrying mainly women and children are reported to be en route to Faya and expected to arrive there any day soon.
"The temperature here in the Sahara is above 50 degrees centigrade. Those who manage to arrive are extremely dehydrated and physically exhausted by such a demanding journey. They have just made a two week trip across the desert without food and water on an open and crammed vehicle in the full sun. There are no towns along the route to stop at and get supplies. There are no roads here, just desert sand," says IOM's Chief of Mission in Chad, Qasim Sufi.
The journey has been too much for some with Sufi reporting that five migrants have died in Faya in recent weeks after reaching the town. More than 100 migrants including children are currently hospitalized in Faya with severe dehydration, respiratory, gastro-intestinal infections and injuries.
Some of the migrants have told IOM that they have left many people behind in Libya who cannot travel and who need assistance.
Among them are an estimated 40,000 Chadians in the southern Libyan town of Gatroun, mostly women and children reported to be in a desperate and pitiful condition.
"People are telling us that these migrants have no food, water, shelter or sanitation. After many weeks like this, and in these temperatures, they cannot survive for much longer," adds Sufi. "We have to be able to access them to help them otherwise they could just die."
An IOM included inter-agency assessment mission to Faya on Thursday aimed to assess the current situation there and to see what needs to be put in place to assist those trying to escape from Gatroun and elsewhere in Libya.
Recent arrivals in Faya have brought the current number of migrants in need of onward transport assistance from this small desert community to more than 3,700. An IOM transit centre in the town has a capacity to accommodate and assist about 900 people although at the very least that capacity needs to be doubled.
IOM has already taken 6,159 returning migrants by road from Faya to final destinations in Chad and another 316 particularly vulnerable people including women and children by air to the capital, N'Djamena.
On Thursday, it organized the road evacuation from Faya to final destinations elsewhere in Chad of 700 returning migrants.
However, road journeys from Faya to N'Djamena, Abéché and other destinations in Chad including Bol and Mao last between three to four days and are again very challenging leading IOM to set up way stations along the route from Faya to N'Djamena, Abéché, Bol and Mao.
"Although IOM provides food, fuel, escorts and communications facilities in case of emergencies during the journey, Faya's remoteness and isolation, not helped by the absence of roads, make this another extremely difficult trip for the migrants who have already endured much," Sufi explains.
As a result, the Organization will shortly begin an air evacuation from Faya to N'Djamena and Abéché after deploying additional staff to beef up its operations there and to respond to a range of issues including operational, medical, psycho-social and protection.
This follows the deployment of additional staff to Kalait which has seen the arrival of more than 5,300 Chadian migrants fleeing Libya. It lies in a remote section of the desert with no services or roads for 340 kilometres.
Earlier this week as IOM staff were en route to Kalait, they came across a broken down truck with 115 migrants on board. The migrants had been stranded on sandy dunes for five days surviving on whatever water given to them by a few passing trucks and eking out their minimal food supplies.
IOM, which organized a truck to rescue them and take them safely to Kalait, has since taken 113 of the migrants back to their home towns and villages.
The migrants recounted tales of beating and robbing against them. One man, who had worked as a security guard in the Libyan town of Kufra for two years, said "They were attacking black people because the rebels thought black people were helping Gaddafi." He added that he too had been beaten and all his money stolen leaving him with nothing to return home with.
Another migrant who had been working in a shop in Ajdabia for the past 18 months, said their journey from Libya had begun 25 days beforehand. He too said he had been hit and robbed of all his money and possessions and with many of his friends having suffered a similar fate; they had all decided to leave Libya.
IOM staff report that there was a sense of excitement and relief among the migrants as they boarded the IOM trucks despite their already long journey.
"They just wanted to keep moving. They knew they were close to home and that their ordeal would soon be over even though they no longer have a livelihood," said IOM's Craig Murphy in Kalait.
The assistance to this group and others marked the start of IOM operations in Kalait to help fleeing migrants return home.
Elsewhere, the number of people fleeing Libya continues to rise. In Tunisia, there have been more than 339,000 arrivals, in Egypt, nearly 262,000, in Algeria, more than 17,000, while in Niger there have been more than 61,200 people who have arrived with smaller numbers in Italy, Malta and Sudan.
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