News / Middle East

Thousands of Migrants Trapped in Libya

A Nigerian migrant worker who fled the unrest in Libya waits at the Libyan and Tunisian border crossing of Ras Jdir, March 3, 2011
A Nigerian migrant worker who fled the unrest in Libya waits at the Libyan and Tunisian border crossing of Ras Jdir, March 3, 2011

As violence continues between Libyan troops and rebels seeking to topple Moammar Gadhafi, aid agencies are struggling to deal with the refugee crisis sparked by the conflict.

Libyan border crossings have been overwhelmed by thousands of migrant workers fleeing the fighting, while international aid officials say many remain trapped in the country.

The latest news reports quote migrants telling of brutal treatment by forces loyal to Gadhafi. They say pro-Gadhafi soldiers have robbed them of their belongings, including money and cell phones.

Many of the refugees are migrants from sub-Saharan Africa, who have reportedly also come under attack from armed rebels because they look like the dark-skinned African mercenaries Gadhafi is widely believed to have brought in to fight the uprising.

The International Organization for Migration says about 215,000 migrants have crossed Libya's borders with Tunisia, Egypt and Niger since February 20. But IOM officials say the number of people fleeing has dropped in the past few days.

It has been difficult for aid agencies to get an accurate assessment of the situation inside Libya.

Video footage of the Libyan refugee crisis

Most of the refugees are Egyptian and Tunisian, but they also include Bangladeshis, Vietnamese, Thais, Koreans, Malians, Ghanaians and Sudanese who went to Libya seeking work. Many of the migrants are trapped because they do not have passports or other documents needed to leave the country.

The International Organization for Migration says even those who have made it out of Libya face difficult conditions. At a border post in Egypt, the IOM says lack of adequate shelter has forced many to sleep out in the open, or in cramped, unsanitary conditions in arrival and departure halls, toilet blocks and bus shelters.

Western nations have sent planes and ships to help evacuate the foreigners.

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