UNHCR concerned at situation of sub-Saharan Africans in Libya, highlights shortage of long-haul flights

Briefing Notes, 8 March 2011

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Adrian Edwards to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 8 March 2011, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

Editors: Please note that new information on arrivals in Algeria has been added to the note since its release at today's UN press briefing in Geneva. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees, António Guterres and IOM Director General William Lacy Swing are in Tunisia today.

UNHCR is alarmed by increasing accounts of violence and discrimination in Libya against sub-Saharan Africans. These accounts are coming from both eastern and western areas. UNHCR reiterates its call on all parties to recognize the vulnerability of both refugees and migrants from sub-Saharan Africa and to take measures to ensure their protection.

Yesterday a UNHCR team at the Egypt border interviewed a group of Sudanese who arrived from eastern Libya who said that armed Libyans were going door to door, forcing sub-Saharan Africans to leave. In one instance a 12-year-old Sudanese girl was said to have been raped. They reported that many people had their documents confiscated or destroyed. We heard similar accounts from a group of Chadians who fled Benghazi, Al Bayda and Brega in the past few days.

At the Egyptian border, one Bangladeshi man died over the weekend after a fight over food distribution. UNHCR staff said that many of the 3,500 Bangladeshis at the border have been waiting for up to ten days for onward transport, and are becoming increasingly agitated. Many are sleeping outside in the bitter cold as available shelter at the border is filled to capacity. Over 14,000 meals were distributed to the stranded population who are in and around the border post yesterday. An estimated 5,000 people are awaiting onwards transport.

At both borders, most of those awaiting evacuation are Bangladeshi single men. There is a critical shortage at present of long-haul flights to Bangladesh, other Asian countries and sub-Saharan Africa. UNHCR and IOM are using cash contributions to charter flights, and several donor countries have offered long-haul flights. Nevertheless, with an estimated 40-50 flights needed to repatriate all the migrants, further support will be needed to ensure that everyone is transported home.

Meanwhile, at the Tunisian border with Libya the number of arrivals has dropped considerably, compared to a week ago, with 2,485 people arriving yesterday. The drop in numbers coincided with intensified fighting in western Libya, which has reduced mobility. Accounts from people who have arrived during the past days describe numerous military road blocks along the route, with the majority reporting that they are searched for mobile phones, memory cards and simcards. UNHCR's tented transit camp in Choucha, close to the border, currently holds 15,000 people. UNHCR has registered 311 people with protection concerns, including Somalis and Eritreans.

UN High Commissioner for Refugees, António Guterres and IOM Director General William Lacy Swing are in Tunisia today to meet the government and visit the border area. They will meet the local community at the border, who have not only offered a generous welcome to the tens of thousands that have arrived in the past weeks, but have also offered considerable assistance, shelter and solidarity with the migrants and refugees.

The number of people who have fled the violence in Libya has passed 212,000, including 112,169 in Tunisia (including over 19,000 Tunisian and over 45,000 Egyptians) and 98,188 in Egypt (including over 68,000 Egyptians) and 2,025 in Niger (including over 1,800 from Niger). UNHCR has also heard from the Algerian Government that more than 4,000 people have arrived in Algeria by air, land and sea, including evacuations from Tunisia and Egypt.

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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

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

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UNHCR Syrians Khoms

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