Close to 1,000 migrants stranded at the port in Misrata for weeks on end have been rescued by IOM by boat amidst worsening conditions as fighting in the city escalates.
The group of 971 migrants, 650 of them Ghanaians but also including various other migrant nationalities including Filipinos and Ukrainians and comprising also women and children, left Misrata on an IOM-chartered boat in the early hours of the morning, today, 18 April.
Among the rescued group are 100 Libyans, 23 of whom are war casualties, including a child shot in the face and an amputee.
IOM staff on the boat say there are four other urgent medical cases on board and that having a group of surgeons from the International Medical Corps (IMC) on the mission has allowed the Organization to evacuate some of those injured by the conflict.
"We wanted to be able to take more people out but it was not possible. Although the exchange of fire subsided while we were boarding with an eerie silence at one point, we had a very limited time to get the migrants and Libyans on board the ship and then leave," says Jeremy Haslam, who is leading the IOM rescue operations on the boat.
The boat, the Ionian Spirit, is now en route to the eastern Libyan port city of Benghazi, where it should arrive later today. In the coming days, those migrants able to travel will be taken by IOM by road to the Libyan-Egyptian border at Salum from where they will be assisted to return to their home countries.
However, IOM is deeply distressed at the fate of at least 4,000 migrants who still remain at the port in Misrata, awaiting evacuation assistance. Among them are more than 3,000 Nigeriens, hundreds of Sudanese, Chadians and migrants from other nationalities, including women and children.
With the situation in the port city worsening by the hour, it is becoming increasingly difficult for IOM to carry out further rescue missions.
"We have a very, very small window to get everyone out. We do not have the luxury of having days, but hours. Instead of carrying out several further missions that will go into next week, what we now need is to have a ship that can accommodate at least 4,000 people and do one last mission that can take everyone out at the same time immediately," says IOM's Regional Representative for the Middle East, Pasquale Lupoli.
"We urgently need donors and governments to put such a ship and funds at our disposal to carry out a mission on this scale. Every hour counts and the migrants still in Misrata cannot survive much longer like this."
The rescue today is the second such mission carried out by IOM, both funded by the European Commission's Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection Office (ECHO). Last Friday, the IOM-chartered boat successfully rescued nearly 1,200 migrants from Misrata to Benghazi from where virtually all of them were later taken by road to Salum for further assistance.
After nearly two months of living out in the open or in containers in the port area, with no access to clean water, medical care and little food, the migrants are extremely weak and dehydrated.
As on the first mission, the IOM-chartered boat took nearly 500 tons of humanitarian aid to Misrata on 16 April. The aid comprised medical as well as food and non-food items and four ambulances donated by the IMC, Qatar, Libyan civil society organizations and the U.A.E Red Crescent Society.
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