Migrants from Libya burden for Tunisia

2011-02-23 22:40

Geneva - Several thousand foreign migrants from Libya have crossed the Tunisian border in the first major exodus to Tunisia since the Libyan turmoil began, the International Organisation for Migration said on Wednesday.

The agency said it was also trying to organise the evacuation of other nationals from poor nations from inside Libya, including many from Asia.

"It's a first group of migrants. Many crossed the border by car, especially with hired vehicles, and there were two buses," IOM spokesperson Jean-Philippe Chauzy told AFP after the arrivals began late Tuesday.

They included "4 700 Tunisians, 120 Turks and a dozen Lebanese nationals, some west Africans," he added. IOM staff on the border also reported several Syrians and three Germans had crossed the border.

"The arrival of migrants is carrying on today. We have information on hundreds of migrants but that hasn't been confirmed yet," Chauzy said.

The office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said later that Libyan nationals were among the arrivals in Tunisia, but spokesperson Melissa Fleming told AFP the agency did not not know how many Libyans there were.

The UNHCR was locating possible sites for camps in case larger numbers arrive.

Fleeing migrants said they had been stopped at checkpoints on their way where soldiers confiscated mobiles phones, passports and other belongings, Chauzy reported.

1,5 million illegals

The IOM estimated that there were about 1.5 million illegal immigrants in Libya before unrest erupted there on February 15.

Although a significant number come from Egypt, Tunisia, west and east Africa, there are also migrants from Asia, mainly Filipinos, Sri Lankans, Bangladeshis, Pakistanis and Chinese, according to the agency.

"We are looking at all possible options for the evacuations of third countries nationalities from Libya," said IOM spokesperson Jemini Pandya.

"We need money from donors to ease the evacuation of migrants from the poorest countries to Tunisia," he added.

Read more on:    unhcr  |  iom  |  libya  |  libya protests  |  north africa  |  uprisings

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