Increased displacement in eastern Libya

Briefing Notes, 25 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 25 March 2011, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

UNHCR is hearing consistent reports from new arrivals and a number of partners in eastern Libya of increased internal displacement. International Medical Corps estimates that up to 20,000 people have been taking refuge in the small town of Al Butwen, east of Ajdabiyya for over two weeks, while the Libyan Red Crescent has told us that some 5,000 people are displaced in the coastal town of Derna.

To date UNHCR has sent two convoys with medical supplies to Benghazi through the Egyptian Red Crescent and the Libyan Red Crescent. We have also sent thousands of blankets, sleeping mats and other relief items. Further stores in Egypt with relief items for 40,000-50,000 people are ready to be dispatched if necessary. At this time we do not have access to deliver humanitarian aid into other parts of Libya.

Meanwhile, the Egyptian city of Marsa Matrouh, some 220 kilometres east of the Libyan border is now hosting hundreds if not thousands of Libyans. Of those interviewed by UNHCR, many are families who say that they hope to return to Libya soon. Banners are hanging in the streets with messages of welcome to Libyans.

The numbers of people fleeing Libya have remained steady over the past few days. Tunisia is seeing around 2000 arrivals daily, most from Sudan and Bangladesh. At the Egyptian border, around 1500-2000 individuals, mostly Libyans and Egyptians, are crossing each day, with a growing number of third country nationals from Chad also being noted.

The number of people awaiting evacuation or alternative solutions from transit camps at the Tunisia border with Libya has increased to 8,500. UNHCR and IOM reiterate their appeal to governments to support their humanitarian evacuation programme to help people return to their home countries.

Over 2000 people are now registered with UNHCR in these transit camps, some are refugees formerly registered with UNHCR in Libya. Within this group, UNHCR has witnessed an increase in the number of families arriving recently.

As of 23 March 351,673 people have fled the violence in Libya. This includes over 178,263 to Tunisia (including 19,283 Tunisians, 21,877 Libyans, 137,103 others), 147,293 to Egypt (including 77,237 Egyptians 27,161 Libyans and 42,895 others), 11,949 to Niger (including 11,091 from Niger and 858 others), 9,168 to Algeria (including land, air and sea evacuations), 2,200 to Chad and 2,800 to Sudan.

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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.