A bottleneck for refugees fleeing Libya into Niger – and waiting to continue on to Europe – is threatening the success of an agreement to free migrants and refugees from Libyan detention centers and slave markets.
The deal between the European Union (EU), African Union (AU) and United Nations (UN) was agreed to in November 17 at the AU-EU Summit, which came as high-profile reports of enslaved African migrants in Libya raised an outraged call for action.
With cooperation from Libya’s Government of National Accord, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) began moving those stranded in Libya on to Niger, which welcomed them as they transitioned to European destinations. Yet not enough of them are moving across the Mediterranean, a senior UNHCR official told EU Parliament committee members in Brussels on Monday.
“We were advised that until more people leave Niger, we will no longer be able to evacuate additional cases from Libya,” said Karmen Sakhr, head of the UNHCR North Africa unit. Just 25 of more than 1,000 migrants in Niger have left for France, with no other country accepting them and the others remaining.
The EU Parliament said recent months have seen reductions in the number of arrivals in Europe and in deaths at sea but the International Organization for Migration (IOM) estimates there are some 800,000 migrants still in Libya, many of them in dire conditions. Another 15,000 were assisted in returning to their home countries under the agreement, the IOM said.
The committee hearing came as Italy waited for final tallies in an election that saw big anti-EU and anti-immigration shifts as voters supported the populist Five Star Movement and existing far-right parties. Former prime minister Matteo Renzi, whose Democratic Party received less than 20 percent of the vote, resigned as party president Monday night.
Image: IOM file