Libya preventing refugees from leaving as fighting escalates
'Libya no good!' chanted refugees who had already made it across the Tunisia-Libya border. The flow of refugees has suddenly dropped 80 percent.
Ras Ajdir, Tunisia-Libya border
Satellite photographs indicate that Libya is slowing the exodus of migrant workers west to Tunisia, stopping them just shy of the border where the flow of more than 90,000 refugees over the past 10 days has suddenly begun to dry up.Skip to next paragraph
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There has been an “artificial stop where the numbers have abruptly gone down 80 percent and no one knows why,” said Andrew Mitchell, the British Secretary of State for International Development, as he visited a transit camp at this remote Tunisia frontier Friday.
“Two days ago 10,000 came across the border, and yesterday 1,863 came across the border,” said Mr. Mitchell, noting that satellite data now being analyzed showed numbers of people at a point 10 miles from the border inside Libya. “There’s been a change, and it doesn’t feel right. It’s too abrupt for it to be a natural change.”
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Tunisian military and police officers spoke to many who had crossed the border, but their accounts were “so contradictory” that they were unable to ascertain what was happening inside Libya.
“In humanitarian terms, that makes it extremely difficult to plan,” said Mitchell. “We need to plan in a way that we can scale up rapidly for a humanitarian situation.”
A human column of Bangladeshis
The reason for the stoppage may have been to minimize the appearance of chaos in Libya, where antiregime rebels have taken control of the eastern third of the country in their bid to unseat Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi. Qaddafi's forces clashed with armed rebels across the country today, including in the oil town of Ras Lanuf and in Zawiya, which lies just west of Tripoli. In the capital itself, Qaddafi forces reportedly opened fire on protesters.
“It looks like Qaddafi has a plan to make it not look like an exodus.... Obviously we will see a lot more leaving [Libya] if they are allowed to,” said Mr. Manski during a visit to the transit camp. “I can’t believe the other side are being serviced with food and water.”
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said in a statement: “If military control of the Libyan border reduces, we anticipate a huge exodus could resume.”
UNHCR and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) had planned on Friday to bring 5,000 Bangladeshis from the immediate border area – where they have been staying in squalid conditions for days – to a newly constructed transit camp some five miles away.