July 8, 2011 / 12:37 PM / 9 years ago

Flights evacuate Chadian migrants from Libya-IOM

* 370 Chadians airlifted from Libya in IOM planes

* Mines, explosives, pose threat to Libyan children-UNICEF

GENEVA, July 8 (Reuters) - Hundreds of African migrants have been airlifted from government-controlled southern Libya and flown to the capital of Chad — the first air evacuation by the International Organisation for Migration since the Libyan war broke out.

Some 370 migrants, mainly Chadian, have been evacuated from the Libyan town of Sebha on three flights chartered by the IOM since Wednesday, the agency said on Friday.

Because a large demonstration was expected in the town on Friday, no flights were scheduled, but airlifts were due to resume this weekend, a spokesman Jumbe Omari Jumbe told a news briefing. Migrants stranded during the conflict have previously been evacuated by ship and bus.

Up to 2,000 Chadian and other African migrants are still marooned in Sebha and Gatroun , a town further to the south, and have spent weeks living in the open with limited access to food, water and health services, the IOM said.

“Leaving Libya is a matter of last resort and the uncertainty of what awaits them in Chad after decades away is causing fear and worry among them,” Qasim Sufi, who is leading the evacuation, said in a statement.

Most of the migrants had been working in menial jobs in southern Libya for many years. The IOM has given migrants small cash payments to help cover their initial costs, it said.

Sporadic fighting, banditry and a lack of local of transport have prevented the migrants from leaving, the agency said.

Handicap International and UNICEF also warned on Friday that Libyan children risked being harmed by playing with the growing number of mines and explosive remnants of war scattered in heavily populated areas.

“Our sense is the contamination in Misrata, Ajdabiyah, Nafusa mountains and some areas outside of Benghazi but less now, poses significant risk to children,” UNICEF spokesman Marixie Mercado told a news briefing in Geneva.

The agency hopes television and radio announcements, to be broadcast until November, will inform more than 500,000 people in eastern and western Libya of the dangers of small arms and weapons. (Reporting by Caroline Copley; Editing by Michael Roddy)

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