UNHCR says open borders imperative for people fleeing violence in Libya

News Stories, 23 February 2011

© REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra
A woman and her family cross from Libya to Tunisia at the Ras Jdir border crossing today. They were among thousands of people fleeing the violence in Libya.

GENEVA, February 23 (UNHCR) The UN refugee agency on Wednesday said it welcomed the positive indications it has received over the past two days from Tunisia and Egypt that they will maintain open borders for people fleeing the continuing violence in Libya.

"Given the continued reports of violence and human rights abuses inside Libya, it is imperative that people fleeing the country are able to reach safety," the refugee agency added in a press release. Several hundred people have been killed in the violence that followed anti-government protests last week.

The statement also noted that UNHCR staff had deployed to the Ras Adjir border crossing in western Libya following a request from the Tunisian government. The UNHCR staff are working alongside the Tunisian Red Crescent and government authorities.

"They will be monitoring the situation and identifying vulnerable individuals for whom immediate assistance is needed such as children without parents, women with children, and the elderly," said the statement. A further UNHCR team was due to fly in on Wednesday.

"Our staff at the Tunisia-Libya border report a steady flow of people since yesterday. Most of the arrivals are Tunisian nationals who have been working in Libya. Among others have been Libyans, Turks, Moroccans and nationals of Middle Eastern and West African countries."

At present, people are staying in hostels, shelters and with local families. Tunisia's Ministry of Defence has identified a location for the establishment of a temporary camp in the event of a large influx of people. UNHCR will work closely with the authorities to enable them to set up this new facility.

In addition, a UNHCR flight carrying tents and other relief items for up to 10,000 people is expected to arrive in Tunisia this weekend.