Number of civilians to flee Libya's Western Mountains nears 40,000

News Stories, 3 May 2011

© UNHCR/F.Kayal
A line of cars waits to enter Tunisia at the Dehiba crossing.

DEHIBA, Tunisia, May 3 (UNHCR) Thousands of ethnic Berbers from Libya have fled into Tunisia after a brief hiatus in their exodus last week because of fighting between Libyan government troops and opposition forces for control of a border crossing point.

"This past weekend, more than 8,000 people, most of them ethnic Berbers, arrived in Dehiba in southern Tunisia. Most are women and children," a UNHCR spokesperson said on Tuesday.

The latest arrivals bring the number of people to have fled fighting in Libya's Western Mountains region to almost 40,000 in the past month.

UNHCR staff in Dehiba said the situation of the refugees was being made worse by a violent sandstorm that has battered the area. UNHCR and its 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 the fighting between Libya's rival sides spilled onto Tunisian territory. Currently, the crossing is under opposition control.

Residents of Dehiba town told UNHCR staff they were worried about military activity across the border and feared further skirmishes. UNHCR will give tents to the local authorities should they need to relocate some families away from the border.

Most of the 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 relief items to the refugees and their host families.

Meanwhile, people have resumed fleeing Libya by sea to Italy after a 10-day break due to bad weather. Some 3,200 people have arrived on Lampedusa Island over the past five days, most of them originating from sub-Saharan Africa.

This brings the total number of irregular arrivals on Italian territory from Libya since March 26 to more than 8,100. Another 1,132 people have arrived in Malta on boats from Libya since mid-April.

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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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