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UNHCR High Commissioner for Refugees urges evacuation of people trying to leave Libya

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UNHCR High Commissioner for Refugees urges evacuation of people trying to leave Libya

28 February 2011

Geneva, 28 February 2011 - UNHCR High Commissioner for Refugees, António Guterres is expressing his concern for tens of thousands of refugees and other foreigners who may be trapped in Libya.

"There are no planes and boats to evacuate people originating from war-torn and very poor countries," Mr. Guterres said, urging governments to consider the needs of all vulnerable people and not just their own citizens. "Many of these people feel targeted, and afraid and have no resources."

Libya has traditionally been a transit and destination country for refugees. UNHCR has recognized 8000 Palestinian, Iraqi, Sudanese, Ethiopian, Somali and Eritrean refugees. Over 3000 more were seeking asylum and many thousands more who lacked access to UNHCR's office are believed to be in the country. "Africans seem to be particularly at risk as they are being associated with foreign mercenaries," said the High Commissioner. "We are very concerned they are unable to move or access safety."

UNHCR is working at the Tunisian and Egyptian borders to help the governments manage a dramatic influx of thousands of people fleeing Libya. Over 110,000 people have crossed so far and thousands more arrive by the hour. Most of those fleeing are Egyptian and Tunisian nationals, though small numbers of Libyans and other nationalities are managing to escape. UNHCR is particularly concerned that only very few refugees have made it out of Libya.

Meanwhile, UNHCR staff members in Tripoli are doing their best to help refugees who manage to reach or contact our office.

IOM estimates that there are an estimated 1.5 million irregular migrant workers in Libya from Africa and Asia. The High Commissioner welcomes the significant efforts underway by countries of origin to facilitate return of these stranded migrants to their home countries with the support of IOM.

"UNHCR is appealing to all neighboring governments in North Africa and Europe to maintain open land, air and sea borders for people forced to flee from Libya," Mr. Guterres said. "All people leaving Libya should be granted access to territory without discrimination, irrespective of their background."

The High Commissioner expressed his gratitude toward the Tunisian and Egyptian governments for their open border policy and again appealed to the international community to come to their aid.