Libya: Thousands flee to Tunisia; new boats reach Italy

Briefing Notes, 3 May 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 3 May 2011, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

The exodus from Libya's Western Mountains region into Tunisia has resumed after a brief interruption last week caused by skirmishes between Libyan government and opposition forces. This past weekend, more than 8,000 people, most of them ethnic Berbers, arrived in Dehiba in southern Tunisia. Most are women and children.

Their situation is being made worse by a violent sandstorm that has battered the area. UNHCR and our partners are struggling to maintain nearby camps. The storm has destroyed hundreds of tents and two huge portable warehouses.

Control of the Dehiba border crossing has changed hands over the past week as fighting between Libyan government and opposition forces spread onto Tunisian territory. Currently, the crossing is under opposition control. Residents of Dehiba town say they are worried about military activity across the border and fear further skirmishes. UNHCR will give tents to the local authorities should they need to relocate some families away from the border.

Most of the Libyan refugees are leaving Libya in tribal groups. Many are choosing to stay in the camps for a few days before moving on to stay with Tunisian families. UNHCR, and partners including the World Food Programme and other agencies are planning to distribute food and other aid to the refugees and their host families.

Meanwhile, more people have been fleeing Libya by sea to Italy, after a 10-day break due to bad weather. Some 3,200 people have arrived on Lampedusa over the past five days, most of them originating from sub-Saharan Africa. This brings to over 8,100 the total number of arrivals in Italy from Libya since March 26. Another 1,132 people have arrived in Malta on boats from Libya in mid-April.

For further information on this topic, please contact:

  • On the Tunisian border: Rocco Nuri on mobile +216 55968515
  • In Rome: Laura Boldrini on mobile +39 33 55 403 194
  • Federico Fossi on mobile +39 349 084 3461
  • In Geneva: Sybella Wilkes on mobile +41 79 557 91 38
• DONATE NOW •

 

• GET INVOLVED • • STAY INFORMED •

UNHCR country pages

UNHCR Supplementary Appeal

UNHCR Supplementary Budget: The Libya Situation, March 2011

A Cry for Those in Peril on the Sea

Earlier this month, within sight of shore after a long journey from Libya, a boat carrying hundreds of people foundered off the Italian island of Lampedusa. More than 300 people, many of them children, drowned and only 156 people were picked out of the water alive. The tragedy was staggering for its heavy death toll, but it is unlikely to prevent people from making the dangerous and irregular journey by sea to try and reach Europe. Many seek a better life in Europe, but others are escaping persecution in countries like Eritrea and Somalia. And it's not just happening on the Mediterranean. Desperate people fleeing poverty, conflict or persecution are risking their lives to cross the Gulf of Aden from Africa; Rohingya from Myanmar are heading into the Bay of Bengal on flimsy boats in search of a safe haven; people of several nationalities try to reach Australia by boat; others cross the Caribbean. And many remember the Vietnamese boat people exodus of the 1970s and 1980s. As then, governments need to work together to reduce the risk to life. These photos, from UNHCR's archives, capture the plight of boat people around the world.

A Cry for Those in Peril on the Sea

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

Angelina Jolie meets boat people in Malta, Lampedusa

Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie joined UNHCR chief António Guterres on the Italian island of Lampedusa, where they met with boat people who have fled unrest in North Africa.

More than 40,000 people, including refugees and asylum-seekers, have crossed the Mediterranean on overcrowded boats and descended on the small island since the beginning of the year.

The UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador flew to Lampedusa from Malta, which has also been a destination for people fleeing North Africa by boat.

Angelina Jolie meets boat people in Malta, Lampedusa

Italy: Mediterranean RescuePlay video

Italy: Mediterranean Rescue

The Italy Navy rescues hundreds of migrants and asylum seekers on the high seas as the numbers of people undertaking the crossing of the Mediterranean from North Africa grows.
Italy: Thousands of Refugees Rescued in SicilyPlay video

Italy: Thousands of Refugees Rescued in Sicily

Over 1,200 migrants were rescued from inflatable boats off the boast of Lampedusa on the 7th of February by the Italian navy. Young men, women and children, crammed into eight dinghies and a boat, were spotted by helicopter half way between Tunisia and Italy.
Italy: Waiting for AsylumPlay video

Italy: Waiting for Asylum

Sicily has a high number of asylum-seekers because of its location in the south of Italy. In 2011, Cara Mineo was set up to provide asylum-seekers with a place to live while their applications were processed. Today, more than 4,000 people stay there and must wait up to a year for a decision on their applications.