Tensions on Libya-Tunisia border stem outflow of refugees

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Melissa Fleming to whom quoted text may be attributed at today's press briefing at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

Escalated fighting at the Dehiba border crossing between Libya and Tunisia has stopped the outflow of refugees from Libya's Western Mountains. UNHCR is very concerned that people fleeing Libya could be caught in the cross-fire as government and opposition forces battle for control in the border area.

Before the fighting intensified yesterday (Thursday), there were long lines of vehicles packed with families queuing up at the border crossing to cross into southern Tunisia. There was a renewed exodus of Libyans crossing from the impoverished Western Mountains region in the past three days; over 3,100 people crossed the border on Wednesday alone.

The large number of recent arrivals is straining the limited resources at the Dehiba border region of south-eastern Tunisia. Camps established to shelter the refugees are filled beyond capacity. UNHCR's camp in Remada with space for 950 people was sheltering some 2,000 people on Thursday evening. UNHCR is reinforcing the camp to a capacity of 5,000 people. Fortunately, the vast majority of people (more than 30,000) are still being hosted by the local community. UNHCR is working with the authorities to expand the capacity of existing camps and to support host families.

In cooperation with Islamic Relief, the World Food Programme and local partners, UNHCR is planning to distribute food and non-food packages to thousands of refugees and to the local communities receiving them, who are clearly feeling the strain. The majority of new arrivals are women, children and families. UNHCR is also moving emergency supplies to the Remada area, including portable warehouses, tents, mattresses and other aid items.

In addition, we received reports from the Somali community in Choucha camp, near the Ras Adjir border crossing to Libya that three more Somali refugees drowned off the coast of Libya yesterday morning after a boat carrying some 280 Africans heading towards Italy capsized in high seas. The three Somalis who died were part of a larger group of 20 people who had left Choucha camp for Libya some 10 days ago in order to board boats to Europe. These deaths add to the hundreds of people who have drowned or are missing in the desperate attempt to reach the safety of Europe from Libya.

For further information on this topic, please contact:

  • On the Egyptian border: Hélène Caux on mobile: +201 294 66 378
  • On the Tunisian border: Firas Kayal on mobile +216 508 561 99
  • In Geneva: Sybella Wilkes on mobile +41 79 557 91 38