A sixth IOM mission to rescue stranded migrants from the war-torn Libyan port city of Misrata is today underway from the eastern city of Benghazi.
The IOM-chartered Red Star One is leaving Benghazi late this morning carrying another 180 tons of humanitarian aid, including food, water and 20 tons of nappies for babies. All the aid has been donated by a Libyan businessman who has contributed the majority of the aid IOM has delivered to Misrata on previous missions and who wishes to remain anonymous.
When the boat arrives in Misrata, IOM will have successfully delivered approximately 1,900 tons of vital humanitarian supplies to a city in conflict for more than two months.
As on previous occasions, a medical team will be on board the ship comprising Libyan doctors and nurses as well as staff from the International Medical Corps. Some of the team will stay behind in Misrata to relieve colleagues in hospitals there.
This sixth IOM mission to Misrata aims to rescue as many migrants as it possibly can. Since the start of the operation to help thousands of stranded migrants camping out around Misrata's port area with little to no shelter, food, clean water and sanitation or health care for two months, IOM has rescued 5,512 people. Among those evacuated to Benghazi were several hundred war-wounded Libyans and their family members.
However, IOM believes that there are still a few thousand migrants who need to be helped, with the Organization still receiving new information on groups of migrants in Misrata, including women and families.
Heavy shelling of Misrata's port area earlier this week during which some migrants were reported to have been killed and injured, had led to many migrants fleeing the area. Port authorities told IOM staff on the previous mission which concluded Thursday that they expected the migrants to return to the port soon after.
Some of the migrants evacuated to Benghazi on that mission told IOM staff that their life had been a nightmare for the past 66 days. Among them a group of Egyptians who were living in the town and who had made the dangerous 25km journey to the port several times in seven days in a desperate bid to get on a boat, aware that people were being killed by sniper fire if they stepped out of their homes.
Barely believing they had made it safely out of Misrata, they spoke of living without electricity, food, water and communications and depending on the kindness of Libyan neighbours for provisions.
The IOM-chartered Red Star One leaving today is due to arrive in Misrata early Saturday if security conditions permit. Once safely returned to Benghazi, migrants on board the ship will be taken by IOM by road to Sallum on the Egyptian border. Since early March, the Organization has safely evacuated 10,170 migrants from Benghazi to Sallum, including those rescued from Misrata.
IOM's humanitarian evacuation programme out of Misrata is funded by the European Commission's Humanitarian Aid and Civilian Protection Office (ECHO), Britain's Department for International Development (DFID), Germany, Ireland and Australia.
Elsewhere in Libya, IOM is continuing to rescue migrants stranded in the Libyan capital, Tripoli. Since late March, the Organization has taken about 6,300 migrants from Egypt, Benin, Sudan and Niger by bus from Tripoli to the Tunisian border point at Ras Adjir from where IOM organizes their evacuation to their home countries.
On Thursday, a group of Egyptian, Sudanese and a small number of Nicaraguan migrants were evacuated from Tripoli on four buses.
"With our on-going operations in Misrata, Benghazi and Tripoli, IOM is managing to reach difficult-to-access migrant populations inside Libya. We are still looking into ways of accessing other large groups of migrants stranded elsewhere, such as the 30,000 Chadians, many of them women and children, currently stuck in Gatroun and in need of humanitarian assistance," says IOM Director of Operations and Emergencies, Mohammed Abdiker.
Meanwhile, migrants continue to flee Libya in all directions. The arrival on Wednesday of 2,584 migrants, mostly Nigerien, at an IOM migrant reception and transit centre in the northern Nigerien town of Dirkou, was the single largest daily influx since the start of the crisis in February.
IOM staff in Dirkou report that the migrants arrived on 20 trucks, among them 43 women and 13 children.
"We are seeing growing numbers of families now coming through. These migrants have been in Libya a long time and are only now leaving because the situation has deteriorated so," says IOM's chief of mission in Niger, Abibatou Wane. "We are also seeing a significant number of unaccompanied minors. Earlier this week, we helped 21 such children who had been living and working in Libya without their families."
More than 58,720 migrants have now arrived in Niger from Libya, the vast majority of them Nigeriens returning home.
In Chad, more than 17,400 mainly Chadian migrants have crossed the border in trucks from Libya in recent days and weeks. IOM staff in the northern town of Faya report that three fully loaded trucks carrying returning migrants are arriving on a daily basis in the town, with a similar number of people arriving in Kalait. Providing assistance to the migrants who have largely arrived from the Libyan towns of Sabha, Sirt, Benghazi, Kufra and Zawiya, is a major challenge.
IOM is currently registering 2,100 migrants in Faya for urgent onward transportation assistance. Staff report that the migrants are arriving in a state of severe fatigue after making long and arduous journeys across the desert.
Those registered will be taken by road or air to the capital, Njdamena in the coming days, with 3,720 people having already being assisted by IOM so far. An IOM team is also being deployed to Kalait today, Friday, to register migrants arriving there.
About 637,500 people have fled Libya since the crisis began in mid February, crossing into Algeria, Chad, Egypt, Niger, Sudan and Tunisia with some of them putting their lives in great danger to reach the shores of Italy and Malta.
Since the crisis began IOM has evacuated nearly 122,000 migrants to their home countries with the support of various governments and UNHCR. An estimated 7,400 migrants are still waiting in Tunisia, Egypt and Niger for assistance to get back home safely.
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