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UN: Not Enough Planes to Transport People Fleeing Libyan Crisis

Bangladeshi evacuees wait for food at a refugee camp near the Libyan and Tunisian border crossing of Ras Jdir after fleeing unrest in Libya March 11, 2011
Bangladeshi evacuees wait for food at a refugee camp near the Libyan and Tunisian border crossing of Ras Jdir after fleeing unrest in Libya March 11, 2011

The United Nations refugee agency reports evacuation flights from Tunisia and Egypt are not keeping pace with the number of new arrivals from Libya.  The UNHCR says about 2,500 people are arriving at the Tunisian border every day.

The U.N. refugee agency reports 17,000 people are at the Tunisian transit camp waiting to go home.  The agency says they include 25 nationalities, most of them Bangladeshi.  

The UNHCR says among them are some 800 people who cannot go home because they come from places such as Somalia.  It says other solutions will have to be found for them.

Both the UNHCR and the International Organization for Migration are appealing for more long-haul flights to Bangladesh and other Asian and sub-Saharan African destinations to handle the crush of people.

UNHCR spokeswoman Melissa Fleming says new arrivals recount having to pass through more than 100 military checkpoints between the Libyan capital, Tripoli, and the Ras Adjir border-crossing with Tunisia.

“We have heard consistent reports, over and over again, that telephones, SIM cards and cash have been taken at these checkpoints and also numerous accounts of threats and discrimination on the basis of skin color throughout the country.  Intense fighting in the west is reportedly leading to limited access to hospitals with many new arrivals saying they were too afraid to venture out of their homes for food," she said.  

Refugee spokeswoman Fleming says some Eritrean and Somali refugees who recently arrived in Tunisia tell aid workers of friends and family in Tripoli who are too afraid to leave their homes, shelters or hiding places to travel to the border.

She says the UNHCR and other aid agencies in Tripoli so far have received close to 800 calls from refugees and asylum-seekers on their 24-hour hotline.  She says the refugees ask for help in obtaining the documents they need to leave the country.  Many convey their fears of being caught up in fighting.

Fleming says an estimated 4,500 people are stranded at the Egyptian border, and the majority are Bangladeshi.  She says most people are sleeping in the open in the freezing cold.

The UNHCR reports more than 230,000 people have fled the violence in Libya since the revolution erupted in mid-February.

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