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Exodus of Berbers to southern Tunisia interrupted by border clashes

News Stories, 29 April 2011

© UNHCR/F.Kayal
The empty Dehiba border crossing between Tunisia and Libya.

RAS ADJIR, Tunisia, April 29 (UNHCR) Fighting for control of a crossing point on the Tunisia-Libya border appears to have interrupted the exodus of civilians fleeing from Libya's Western Mountains.

In Geneva, spokesperson Melissa Fleming told journalists that UNHCR was "very concerned that people fleeing Libya could be caught in the crossfire as government and opposition forces battle for control in the border area."

Before the fighting at the Dehiba crossing intensified on Thursday, UNHCR staff saw long lines of vehicles carrying ethnic Berber families waiting to cross into southern Tunisia. Dehiba is located some 200 kilometres south of the main Tunisia-Libya border crossing at Ras Adjir.

UNHCR staff were unable to visit Dehiba on Friday because of the security situation, but local partners said the queues had disappeared and nobody was crossing the border.

In the past month, more than 30,000 people have fled the fighting in the Western Mountains and crossed into Tunisia at Dehiba. More than 3,100 people crossed the border on Wednesday alone, according to UNHCR staff.

The large number of recent arrivals is straining the limited resources in the area. 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 on Thursday evening.

UNHCR is reinforcing the camp to a capacity of 5,000 people. Fortunately, the vast majority of people 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. 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.

Meanwhile, Fleming in Geneva said UNHCR had received reports from the Somali community in Choucha camp, near the Ras Adjir border crossing, that three Somali refugees drowned off the coast of Libya Thursday morning after an Italy-bound boat carrying some 280 Africans capsized in high seas.

The three 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," Fleming noted.




UNHCR country pages

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

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

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