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Internal displacement on the rise in Libya, UNHCR sending aid to Benghazi

Briefing notes

Internal displacement on the rise in Libya, UNHCR sending aid to Benghazi

22 March 2011

UNHCR staff at Egypt's border with Libya have been hearing from new arrivals that thousands of Libyans are displaced in the east of the country, taking refuge in homes, schools and university halls. People who arrived over the weekend say there is displacement in Ajdabiya, Derna, and Tubruk.

Providing humanitarian assistance under current circumstances is very challenging. There are reported shortages of medical supplies and basic commodities in the eastern part of the country, with prices having increased dramatically.

Libyans at the Egyptian border told UNHCR that they feared reprisal attacks by pro-government supporters in eastern parts of the country. They said people are afraid to go out after 4 pm. Some have seen their homes completely destroyed. One man returned to Ajdabiya over the weekend to find four rockets had flattened his home, forcing him to once again seek refuge in Egypt. Mobile phone networks have not been working since Thursday, fueling fears and generating greater uncertainty.

Responding to reports of internal displacement, UNHCR will send truck loads of aid tomorrow on a WFP convoy to Benghazi. This will include 5,000 blankets and 5,000 sleeping mats for people camped out in schools, universities and with families.

As of yesterday, UNHCR staff were describing the border as being 'relatively quiet' with an estimated 400 cars arriving during the course of the day. Egyptian authorities told UNHCR that approximately 3,000 persons crossed the border on Sunday including 1,560 Libyans and 1,344 Egyptians.

Significant progress has been made with repatriating third country nationals from the Egyptian border and by the end of yesterday only around 1,700 remained there. Of this number, around 270 are refugees and asylum-seekers, while over 1,300 are Chadians awaiting onward transportation.

The Egyptian army has set up communal tents to house up to 600 Libyans who have arrived without proper documentation. UNHCR has offered to set up several portable warehouses in the border area to provide shelter for those waiting for onwards transport or other solutions.

On Monday afternoon, a UNHCR-chartered cargo plane landed in Alexandria in Egypt carrying six portable warehouses, one vehicle and relief items, including plastic sheets, jerry cans, kitchen sets and sleeping mats from UNHCR's emergency stockpile in Dubai.

Meanwhile on the Tunisian border UNHCR staff continue to report hearing distant gunfire inside Libya. Libyan pro-government supporters yesterday staged a show of support at the border. A number of new arrivals say they have faced intimidation and harassment at border check points between Tripoli and the Ras Adjir border crossing, with a group of Sudanese men telling UNHCR that yesterday they had all their money and possessions taken at a checkpoint. Others have told UNHCR that they were able to leave Libya with little or no interference.

The ongoing effort to repatriate people from the Shousha camp near the border continues, with the camp population now estimated at 4,700 people. According to the Tunisian authorities 1,832 people crossed from Libya on Sunday.

Under an emergency evacuation programme, UNHCR and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) have run more than 264 flights to repatriate some 58,200 people from Tunisia, Egypt and Algeria since the start of March.

As of 20 March, 323,594 people have fled the violence in Libya. This includes over 167,473 to Tunisia (including 19,158 Tunisian, 19,713 Libyans, 128,602 others), 140,876 to Egypt (including 75,795 Egyptians 20,553 Libyans and 65,081 others), 6,077 to Niger (including 4,915from Niger and 1,162 others) and 9,168 to Algeria (including land, air and sea evacuations).