UNHCR worried that civilians being prevented from fleeing Libya, significant progress in evacuation of Egyptians from Tunisia
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 4 March 2011, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.
The number of civilians fleeing the violence in Libya to Tunisia has dropped significantly since Wednesday afternoon. Compared to earlier in the week when between 10,000 and 15,000 people were crossing into Tunisia daily, less than 2,000 made it across yesterday. UNHCR is very concerned that the security situation in Libya may be preventing people from fleeing.
The border on the Libyan side is now manned by heavily armed pro-government forces. From those that did manage to cross the border, we have heard that mobile phones and cameras were being confiscated en route. Many people appear to be frightened and are unwilling to speak.
Thanks to a rapid response from the international community to the joint IOM-UNHCR humanitarian evacuation appeal, significant progress has been made with the evacuation of Egyptians and other nationalities from Tunisia. Egypt, Tunisia, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, and the United Kingdom have all offered air or sea transport. The Egyptian Government has repatriated tens of thousands of their own nationals. Australia, Austria, Belgium, Denmark, the European Commission, France, Germany, Luxembourg, Poland and Spain have offered funds for the UNHCR response to the Libya crisis. Private donations have also been coming in.
Around 12,500 people still need evacuation. Over 10,000 are from Bangladesh. Today at least two flights are planned to Bangladesh.
If military control of the border and roads reduces, a huge exodus of people could resume. Planning is underway to establish a second camp close to the border. Meanwhile in eastern Libya a UNHCR team is currently in Benghazi as part of an inter-agency assessment mission. They found a camp at Benghazi port where some 8,000 foreigners were awaiting evacuation. Evacuations were ongoing and while most expect to be evacuated in the next two days, there are 305 Eritreans, 191 Ethiopians and 153 Somalis who have been repeatedly refused evacuation. Most are single young men, with 40 women and three children. They reported that although they faced significant problems in the past two weeks, empathy towards sub-Saharan Africans waiting at the port has increased.
According to our team, the Libyan Red Crescent is very active in providing assistance. They are also helping third country nationals and refugees to reach the border. ICRC staff in Benghazi say the most serious problem is a shortage of medical professionals in the region, with the majority of foreign medical staff having been evacuated. There is concern that fuel may start to run out in the next 15 days, with food shortages also anticipated in the coming weeks.