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

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

UNHCR Syrians KhomsPlay video

UNHCR Syrians Khoms

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

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

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.
Libya: Cost of WarPlay video

Libya: Cost of War

Sirte was heavily damaged during last year's fighting.