Libya exodus 'emergency' as 1000s flee
Valletta - The UN refugee agency said a "humanitarian emergency" was underway as thousands fled Libya over the weekend in a mass exodus of foreigners from the strife-torn country by air, land and sea.
The agency said almost 100 000 migrant workers, mostly from Egypt and Tunisia, had fled Libya in the past week and many remained stranded at the Libya-Tunisia border as Libyan customs officers deserted their posts on Sunday.
"We call upon the international community to respond quickly and generously to enable these governments to cope with this humanitarian emergency," said Antonio Guterres, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
Meanwhile two ferries docked late on Sunday with some 300 people, including the ambassadors to Libya from Malta and Portugal, on the Mediterranean island of Malta. As the closest European Union member state located just 350km north of Libya, it has become a key hub in the desperate scramble to get foreigners out of Libya.
Malta's Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi said his island nation had received some 8,000 people since the Libyan crisis began and he feared there could be an even greater exodus.
"There could be an escalation," Gonzi said at a press conference lateon Sunday. "We have brought back from Libya more than 8 000 people representing 89 nationalities."
Huge multinational workforce
"If the situation continues to escalate, we'll need help from Europe and share the burden with our European partners," he said, adding that in his view the end was in sight.
"The leadership of (Muammar) Gaddafi needs to end and its end is inevitable," he said.
Earlier a ferry arrived in Malta loaded with some 1 800 Asian workers - chartered by Brazilian energy infrastructure company Odebrecht - included citizens of China, Pakistan, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam who will be flown back to their homelands from Malta.
Libya, one of Africa's biggest oil producers, had a huge multinational workforce before the current crisis including construction workers, oil industry workers and domestic helpers from Bangladesh, China, Egypt and the Philippines.
Some 4 600 people fleeing the violence in Libya, mostly Chinese nationals, arrived in the Greek ports of Piraeus and Heraklion on Sunday. Three Greek ferries have evacuated more than 7 000 foreign nationals from Libya.
Several hundred Vietnamese and Filipinos also made their escape by land to neighbouring Algeria, abandoning their construction jobs, along with 109 Libyans and three Belarussians, the Algerian news agency APS reported.