On Libya-Tunisia border, refugees plead for help to go home
More than 95,000 refugees have crossed the remote desert border post at Ras Ajdir, Tunisia, in the past 10 days. President Obama said the US military would help transport home refugees from Libya, and the European Commission boosted aid.
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“There has been an amazing response by Tunisians and it needs to be matched by the international community,” says Mr. Kheriji.Skip to next paragraph
In Pictures Qaddafi: A look back
In Pictures Libya uprising
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Foreign workers attacked
Foreign workers have been attacked in Libya since protests against President Muammar Qaddafi began on Feb, 17, which mirrored the start of pro-democracy demonstrations in Tunisia and Egypt that recently toppled authoritarian rulers.
In the most violent crackdown yet in an Arab popular uprising, Mr. Qaddafi deployed African mercenaries to stop protests and fight street battles. Since then, black African workers have also been targeted by antiregime forces, suspicious that they might also be mercenaries.
“We don’t know what plans God has for us, but if we stay [in Libya], we die,” said Ghanaian mason Manu Moses. He crossed the border with just a tiny orange suitcase and a cellphone he hid in his underwear. Libyan police lifted his other phone, a TV, and a speaker set.
Governments, employers neglect workers left behind
But as the wind whipped sand across the crowds of stranded refugees – most of them Bangladeshis, under tents made with blankets, or fighting with each other as tempers flared, or standing in long lines for toilets – there were complaints of neglect from their government and from their employers, often large Libyan or international construction firms.
Many refugees said they had not been paid for months; many others said they were robbed of all their cash and valuables, from SIM cards and cellphones to computers, by Libyan police and soldiers as they passed check points on their way to the border.
“People are dead here,” said an Egyptian called Weil, as he strode across a rubbish strewn ground near a wall that doubled as a toilet in the border camp. Tunisian radio reported that three people have died here.
Several miles down the road, deeper into Tunisia, the Tunisian military, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, and other agencies are setting up a transit camp with gleaming white tents. On Thursday, water pipes were being buried in the ground.
“The lack of sanitation could be a big issue,” says Alan Manski, the emergency coordinator with the International Rescue Committee, as he stands in the border camp. “There is a huge potential for violence.”
Reports of refugees being stripped of their valuables along the way will filter back inside Libya, he says, and will be a deterrent for others wanting to leave.
Inside the camp as the sun set, piles of trash were set alight, creating toxic columns of smoke. Bangladeshis surrounded visitors, and pleaded for support.
Two of them had a ready-made sign with a picture of a plane and boat, which they held up. It read: “Please help. We are want [sic] to go back Bangladesh for live.”