UNHCR says open borders imperative for people fleeing violence in Libya

News Stories, 23 February 2011

© REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra
A woman and her family cross from Libya to Tunisia at the Ras Jdir border crossing today. They were among thousands of people fleeing the violence in Libya.

GENEVA, February 23 (UNHCR) The UN refugee agency on Wednesday said it welcomed the positive indications it has received over the past two days from Tunisia and Egypt that they will maintain open borders for people fleeing the continuing violence in Libya.

"Given the continued reports of violence and human rights abuses inside Libya, it is imperative that people fleeing the country are able to reach safety," the refugee agency added in a press release. Several hundred people have been killed in the violence that followed anti-government protests last week.

The statement also noted that UNHCR staff had deployed to the Ras Adjir border crossing in western Libya following a request from the Tunisian government. The UNHCR staff are working alongside the Tunisian Red Crescent and government authorities.

"They will be monitoring the situation and identifying vulnerable individuals for whom immediate assistance is needed such as children without parents, women with children, and the elderly," said the statement. A further UNHCR team was due to fly in on Wednesday.

"Our staff at the Tunisia-Libya border report a steady flow of people since yesterday. Most of the arrivals are Tunisian nationals who have been working in Libya. Among others have been Libyans, Turks, Moroccans and nationals of Middle Eastern and West African countries."

At present, people are staying in hostels, shelters and with local families. Tunisia's Ministry of Defence has identified a location for the establishment of a temporary camp in the event of a large influx of people. UNHCR will work closely with the authorities to enable them to set up this new facility.

In addition, a UNHCR flight carrying tents and other relief items for up to 10,000 people is expected to arrive in Tunisia this weekend.

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Growing Numbers of Syrians Seek Refuge in Egypt

Since the Syrian crisis erupted in March 2011, more than 1.6 million Syrians have fled their homeland to escape the fighting. Most have sought shelter in countries neighbouring Syria - Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey. But a significant number have made their way to Egypt in recent months. They are coming by air from Lebanon after leaving Syria, and also by sea. Since March, UNHCR has been registering about 2,000 a week. To date, almost 80,000 have registered as refugees, with half of them women and children. UNHCR believes there may be many more and the refugee agency is reaching out to these people so that they can receive vital protection and assistance and get access to basic services. The Syrians are staying with host families or renting apartments, mainly in urban centres such as Cairo, Sixth of October City, Alexandria and Damietta. The refugees heading to Egypt say they are attracted by its open door policy for Syrian refugees and by the lower rents and living costs. The following photographs were taken by Shawn Baldwin.

Growing Numbers of Syrians Seek Refuge in Egypt

On the Border: Stuck in Sallum

After violence erupted in Libya in February last year, tens of thousands of people began streaming into Egypt at the Sallum border crossing. Most were Egyptian workers, but almost 40,000 third country nationals also turned up at the border and had to wait until they could be repatriated. Today, with the spotlight long gone, a group of more than 2,000 people remain, mainly single young male refugees from the Sudan. But there are also women, children and the sick and elderly waiting for a solution to their situation. Most are likely to be resettled in third countries, but those who arrived after October are not being considered for resettlement, while some others have been rejected for refugee status. They live in tough conditions at the Egyptian end of the border crossing. A site for a new camp in no man's land has been identified. UNHCR, working closely with the border authorities, plays the major role in providing protection and assistance.

On the Border: Stuck in Sallum

Displacement Challenges for Libya

Libya endured severe upheaval in 2011 and the next government faces major challenges moving the country forward after four decades of Muammar Gaddafi's rigid rule. One task will be addressing and resolving the issue of tens of thousands of internally displaced people. Some are waiting for their homes to be repaired or rebuilt, but many more have been forced to desert their towns and villages because of their perceived support for Gaddafi and alleged crimes committed during the conflict. Meanwhile, growing numbers of people, including refugees and asylum-seekers, are coming to Libya from sub-Saharan Africa on well travelled mixed migration routes. Some are being detained as illegal immigrants, though many are people of concern. Others have risked the dangerous sea crossing to southern Europe.

Displacement Challenges for Libya

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