News / Africa

UN Asks West for Help with Libyan Refugee Crisis

Men who used to work in Libya and fled the unrest in the country, carry their belongings as they walk during a sand storm in a refugee camp in Ras Ajdir, Tunisia (File Photo)
Men who used to work in Libya and fled the unrest in the country, carry their belongings as they walk during a sand storm in a refugee camp in Ras Ajdir, Tunisia (File Photo)


Laurel Bowman

What inevitably follows the breakout of war is the movement of masses of people across international borders. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees reports that hundreds of thousands of refugees are moving out of Libya, mainly into Tunisia and Egypt, countries fresh with the instability of their own revolutions.

United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres on Tuesday called on Western nations to help.

Clashes between opposition forces and those supporting embattled Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi have killed thousands in Libya.  NATO forces aim to protect civilians threatened by government troops.

But people whose lives were disrupted are on the move, traveling by car and foot, mainly into neighboring Egypt and Tunisia, and also to Niger, Algeria and Chad.

At a U.N. camp on the Tunisian border, these refugees described the mounting chaos they fled. “Some people die, die every day, 20 people, 100 people, 50 people continue to die," said one man.

“We saw children being violent.  They attacked us, took our phone and money as well,"said another man.

For others it is the boredom that overwhelms them.  This camp on the Egyptian border houses migrant workers who left as their work dried up.

“We are not interested in playing cards, just wasting time, you know, we try and kill the time," said one man in the camp.

United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres told a Washington audience Tuesday that more than 650,000 people have left Libya, mostly for Egypt and Tunisia.  He praised those nations for their hospitality. “In a world where more and more countries tend to close their borders, Tunisia and Egypt opened their borders and did so without any restrictions and not only opened their borders but I have witnessed myself poor families namely close to the Tunisian border coming to the border and looking at those who were entering without anything and sharing their resources," he said.

Guterres called on the international community to provide financial support to these two nations’ resettlement efforts.

And he asked Western Europe to adapt a more positive and pro-active migration policy, especially toward younger refugees looking for economic opportunity. “I know these are difficult moments but Europe needs migration. Europe as a demographic evolution as you know with fertility indexes that are very low in many countries, below 1.5, which means migration is an essential component," he said.

UNHCR wants the United States, the world’s largest re-settler of refugees, to consider taking Somalis, Eritreans and Iraqis fleeing Libya. Many of these refugees cannot be repatriated to their native lands.  He says he would like Australia and Canada to do the same.  

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