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Over 140,000 flee Libya to Egypt and Tunisia, UNHCR steps up efforts to support refugees and civilians in Libya
Briefing Notes, 1 March 2011
This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Melissa Fleming – to whom quoted text may be attributed – at the press briefing, on 1 March 2011, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.
UNHCR staff at the Libya-Tunisia border have this morning told us that the situation is reaching crisis point. According to the Tunisian authorities, 70-75,000 people have fled Libya to Tunisia since 20 February. Fourteen thousand people crossed yesterday, the highest number to date, with tens of thousands of people now in urgent need of onwards transportation to their home countries. With 10,000-15,000 people expected to arrive today it is becoming critically important that onwards transport becomes quickly available to avoid a humanitarian crisis.
Yesterday UNHCR erected 500 tents, and last night each was sheltering between six to eight people. This morning work continues on erecting a further 1000 tents so that a total of 12,000 people will have shelter by the evening. An additional two airlifts are planned for Thursday with tents and supplies for up to 10,000 people. The water and hygiene situation remains precarious. UNHCR has requested ICRC and UNICEF to help with improving these facilities. Tunisian civilians, the Tunisian Red Crescent and the Tunisian military have been offering what our staff have described as 'unprecedented support', but are seriously overstretched.
UNHCR staff have visited the border entry point to Tunisia. They say that thousands of people have been waiting on the Libyan side to enter for as long as three days, obliged to spend the night outside in the bitter cold without shelter. We are very concerned that a large number of sub-Saharan Africans are not being allowed entry into Tunisia at this point. UNHCR is in negotiations with self-appointed volunteers from the local community who are guarding the border.
Meanwhile at the Egyptian border, the Government reported that some 69,000 people had crossed from Libya since 19 February. The majority of those who have crossed are Egyptians, most of whom have already been transported to other towns and cities. Around 3,000 people remain in the arrival/departure area awaiting onward transportation. Yesterday UNHCR distributed relief items and food prepared by the Egyptian Red Crescent.
Today the Egyptian Red Crescent is transporting for UNHCR a consignment of medical supplies and food into eastern Libya. The food and medicine is being sent in response to requests from tribal leaders who UNHCR met over the weekend, and is expected to arrive tomorrow. Further convoys are being prepared.
UNHCR national staff based in Libya have kept our office in Tripoli open for refugees. For those refugees that are able to reach our office, we have been offering assistance. Staff there are also manning a 24-hour hotline. This hotline, and a hotline manned from Geneva, continues to receive desperate calls from refugees in Libya and their family members outside, saying they feel trapped, threatened and hunted. We have heard several accounts from refugees who tell us their compatriots have been targeted and killed. Others tell us about forced evictions and attacks on their homes.
UNHCR Hotline numbers:
Land line:+218-21-4777503 (24 hours)
Mobile:+218-92-552-3671 (9:00 to 14:00 hours)
+41 22 739 8855
+41 22 739 8465
+41 22 739 7484
+41 22 739 8542