World News

In a First, U.N. Evacuates Dozens of Refugees from Libya to Italy

Posted December 23, 2017 2:03 p.m. EST

Dozens of refugees and migrants who were held in detention in bleak conditions in Libya were evacuated to Italy late Friday, according to the United Nations’ refugee agency.

It is the first time that the organization has relocated people from Libya directly into Europe.

The group of 162 refugees and migrants from Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia and Yemen arrived at a military base near Rome aboard two planes and were met by Italian authorities.

Photos of the arrival show women carrying small children bundled in blankets and layers of warm clothes as they boarded buses.

Vincent Cochetel, a representative for the central Mediterranean region of the United Nations’ refugee agency, said in a statement that five of the women who arrived in Italy had given birth while in detention in Libya, where they only had access to limited medical assistance.

“Some of those evacuated suffered tremendously and were held captive in inhumane conditions while in Libya,” Cochetel said.

Among those arriving in Italy on Friday were families, single mothers, newborn babies, unaccompanied children and disabled people who were especially vulnerable to the desperate conditions in Libya.

Most had been held for months in harsh conditions in extralegal detention centers in the northern African nation where they were subjected to abuses — and in some instances sold as slaves — by traffickers and local militiamen.

The relocation was part of a wider initiative by European and African authorities to address the deteriorating conditions in Libya.

Thousands have been returned to their African home countries as part of actions organized by a task force of officials from the European Union, the African Union, the U.N. refugee agency and the International Organization for Migration.