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.

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