5 000 flee Libya into Tunisia

2011-02-24 15:15

Ben Guerdane - More than 5 000 people have fled the chaos in Libya across the border into Tunisia, the regional head of the Red Crescent told AFP on Thursday.

Between midnight and 16:00 on Wednesday "around 5 000 Tunisians, 171 Libyans, 22 Algerians, and 28 Moroccans" crossed the border at the main Ras Jedir checkpoint, Monj Slim told AFP close to the border.

He said another "830 Chinese nationals are waiting on the other side of the border for administrative reasons, they are waiting for papers, stamps, they should pass through this morning, according to the Chinese vice consul," he said.

He added that the Red Crescent was getting ready for them with medical aid and food.

"Tunisians are leaving straightaway for their homes, the Egyptians slept in schools, youth hostels, we are taking them to the airport at Djerba in agreement with their consulate and two planes from Egypt are expected at Djerba," he said.

"The Moroccans have been sent to Tunis where their consulate will look after arranging their repatriation," Slim said.

According to trade unionist Houcine Betaieb, contacted from Tunis, more than 700 Egyptians went through the border post overnight and that "they said thousands were intending to make their way home via Tunisia".

"Around a million Egyptians work in Libya and we fear the majority of them will come through Ras Jedir," he said.

Gaddafi’s defiant speech

"We are already having trouble coping with everybody and we fear Ben Guerdane is not equipped to take in all these foreign expatriates."

An official with the UN refugee agency UNHCR in Tunis said the agency had had a team on the spot for the past three days trying to aid people who arrived.

He said the United Nations World Food Programme was preparing to come to the aid of Libyan refugees on the Tunisian border.

In Tunis, the national carrier Tunisair said it intended to repatriate 800 more Tunisians from Tripoli on Thursday.

"We have four scheduled flights today, including two Airbus A-300s for Tripoli, but apparently there are many Tunisians living in Libya who are unable to get to Tripoli airport," company spokesperson Soulafa Mukkadam told AFP.

The state news agency TAP meanwhile announced that a ship would leave the port of La Goulette in the northern suburbs of Tunis on Thursday for Benghazi, in eastern Libya, to repatriate Tunisians.

The number of people fleeing Libya ballooned after its leader Muammar Gaddafi’s defiant speech on Tuesday in which he vowed to die as a martyr in the land of his ancestors and fight to the "last drop" of his blood.