News / Europe

UN: 100,000 People Have Fled Libya into Neighboring States

In this photo released by Britain's Ministry of Defense, civilians disembark from one of two Royal Air Force C130 Hercules that evacuated more than 150 civilians from desert locations south of Benghazi, at Malta's international airport, February 27, 2011
In this photo released by Britain's Ministry of Defense, civilians disembark from one of two Royal Air Force C130 Hercules that evacuated more than 150 civilians from desert locations south of Benghazi, at Malta's international airport, February 27, 2011

The United Nations refugee agency says almost 100,000 people have fled Libya into neighboring Egypt and Tunisia in the past week, to escape a deadly anti-government uprising.

U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres asked the international community Sunday to provide quick and generous assistance to Egypt and Tunisia, so that they can cope with what he called a "humanitarian emergency."

The U.N. agency says Tunisia has reported the entry of 40,000 people from Libya since February 20, and Egypt has recorded 55,000 people crossing the Libyan border since February 19.

Most of those fleeing to the neighboring states are said to be Egyptians and Tunisians, while the remainder include other foreigners, mainly Asian migrant workers, and several thousand Libyans. It says U.N. emergency teams are working with Egyptian and Tunisian authorities to support the evacuees.

Britain continued its secret evacuations of foreign nationals who are stranded at remote camps in the Libyan desert. Defense Minister Liam Fox said three British military transport planes evacuated 150 oil workers and civilians from "multiple locations" in the Libyan desert Sunday.

Two Royal Air Forces planes later landed on the Mediterranean island nation of Malta and a third was due to arrive later.

In a similar covert operation Saturday, two British C-130 Hercules planes picked up another 150 civilians - including Britons and other foreigners - from desert sites and brought them to Malta. The British government has faced criticism at home for being too slow to help hundreds of British oil workers stuck in desert facilities with dwindling supplies of food and water.

Separately, Germany said its air force evacuated 132 people from the desert during a secret military mission on Saturday. Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said Sunday two German military planes flew the evacuees - Germans and other EU citizens - to Crete. About 100 Germans remain in Libya, half of them in the country's interior.

Mediterranean ports are overflowing with thousands of other foreigners escaping Libya's unrest. The French news agency said a ferry loaded with 1,800 Asian workers docked in Malta Sunday. Maltese Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi said his island nation has received 8,000 people since the Libyan crisis began and he fears an even greater exodus to come.

Also Sunday, 4,600 people - mostly Chinese nationals - arrived in the Greek ports of Piraeus (Athens) and Heraklion (Crete). Another ferry with 2,000 more Chinese is expected to reach Crete late Monday. China also is chartering planes to fly Chinese citizens out of the Libyan capital, Tripoli, and bring them home from other destinations in North Africa and Europe.

At least 20,000 Chinese, 15,000 Turks and 1,400 Italians have been evacuated from Libya in recent days. The North African nation had a huge multinational work force before the crisis began, including workers in the construction and oil industries, and domestic helpers from Bangladesh, China, Egypt and the Philippines.

But thousands of migrant workers from poorer countries in South Asia and West Africa have been stranded in Libya, many abandoned by their foreign employers. Some have no passports or cash and nowhere to go. Indians, Pakistanis, Vietnamese, Thais and Bangladeshis crowd the port of the eastern city of Benghazi. Their Turkish and Chinese managers escaped without them.

There has been little assistance thus far for workers from Ghana, Nigeria, Mali and Burkina Faso -  with their home countries too poor or unorganized to send assistance.

Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.

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