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.




UNHCR country pages

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

Resettlement from Tunisia's Choucha Camp

Between February and October 2011, more than 1 million people crossed into Tunisia to escape conflict in Libya. Most were migrant workers who made their way home or were repatriated, but the arrivals included refugees and asylum-seekers who could not return home or live freely in Tunisia.

UNHCR has been trying to find solutions for these people, most of whom ended up in the Choucha Transit Camp near Tunisia's border with Libya. Resettlement remains the most viable solution for those registered as refugees at Choucha before a cut-off date of December 1, 2011.

As of late April, 14 countries had accepted 2,349 refugees for resettlement, 1,331 of whom have since left Tunisia. The rest are expected to leave Choucha later this year. Most have gone to Australia, Norway and the United States. But there are a more than 2,600 refugees and almost 140 asylum-seekers still in the camp. UNHCR continues to advocate with resettlement countries to find solutions for them.

Resettlement from Tunisia's Choucha Camp

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

UNHCR Syrians KhomsPlay video

UNHCR Syrians Khoms

The end of a long, silent journey: Two Eritreans in Libya Play video

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Two Eritreans set out on a perilous journey to Europe, crossing Sudan and the Sahara arriving in Libya during its 2011 revolution. They arrive in Tripoli having avoided the risks of detention and despite contending with a crippling handicap: both David and his wife Amitu are deaf and mute.
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Sirte was heavily damaged during last year's fighting.