Chaos at Libya-Tunisia border

2011-03-01 15:20
Geneva - The UN refugee agency said on Tuesday that the situation on Libya's border with Tunisia is reaching a crisis point after 70 000 to 75 000 people fled from the violence in Libya since February 20.

"Our staff on the Libya-Tunisia border have told us this morning that the situation there is reaching crisis point," said Melissa Fleming, spokeswoman for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

She said 14 000 people fled across the border to Tunisia on Monday, the highest number in a single day so far, and that 10 000 to 15 000 people are expected on Tuesday.

Tens of thousands are now waiting for transport to take them on to other cities.

"It's critically important that this onward transport becomes available to avoid the crisis," stressed Fleming.

Thousands are meanwhile waiting on the Libyan side to cross, she said, noting that some have queued for as long as three days.

Some sub-Saharan Africans in particular were not being allowed into Tunisia at the moment, said Fleming, who added that the UN agency was negotiating with volunteers from the local community who are guarding the border.

"We're very concerned that racism could be a factor" blocking the exit of sub-Saharan Africans, said Fleming.

"All borders, land, air and sea should be opened in a non-discriminatory manner. Anyone who needs to flee should be able to flee," she said.

The UNHCR also said that its office in Tripoli remains open and is currently manned by local staff who have been receiving desperate messages from refugees and asylum seekers trapped in Libya.

"Those who are Africans in particular are the ones who are most afraid right now," said Fleming, reading out one such message received which said: "We are under attack from local people who say that we are mercenaries."

At the Libyan border with Egypt, 69 000 people have crossed since February 19.

Many are Egyptians and have been transported to other cities across the country, with only 3 000 still awaiting transport, UNHCR said.

A violent backlash unleashed by Muammar Gaddafi's regime against protestors has sparked a mass exodus from the country, mainly of migrant workers.

- SAPA
Read more on:    un  |  muammar gaddafi  |  tunisia  |  libya  |  libya protests  |  north africa  |  uprisings
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