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.
(Page 2 of 2)
Instead, they walked, carrying all their possessions in a human column that stretched for more than mile.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
Senior UNHCR official Ayman Gharaibeh said his organization could increase the scale of their operations to accommodate 20,000. "But we are trying to make sure this becomes only a relay point,” he said, as he walked toward the rows of newly erected white tents. “We always get cold feet when we see tents climbing up a hill in regiments. It’s a complex logistical challenge with buses and planes.”
'Libya no good!' say refugees, suitcases in tow
The UNHCR and IOM hired 35 buses to ferry migrant workers fleeing Libya from the border to this transit camp, and then onward to airports and sea ports in Tunisia. Amid cries for logistical help, the European Commission on Thursday announced a 10-fold increase in aid to 30 million euros ($42 million) for refugees fleeing to both Tunisia and Egypt.
But that help did not come soon enough for thousands of Bangladeshis, who midday Friday took to the road. Workers abandoned by their poor country and the companies they worked for in Libya carried bundles of blankets on their heads and dragged wheeled suitcases alongside the road from the border.
“Libya no good!” chanted some of the refugees as they marched the parched hot road to the edge of the transit camp. Tunisian soldiers sought to keep them organized and even sent trucks to carry some heavier bags.
But the scene was one of a determined mass movement of people.
“Sir, this is the human engine,” explained one passing Bangladeshi.
Another put down his two bags for a rest while the column continued to move, step by step.
“Five kilometers come here, by legs,” said Mehedi Hasan, a site engineer for CKG – according to his identity card – who said he had not been paid in a year. “Too much problem! I am man, not machine.”
Echoing the complaints of many other migrants who made it to the border to escape, he said Libyan police and soldiers robbed him of two mobile phones, cash, and all other valuables at numerous checkpoints.
Donated food, diapers
For those who made it to this transit camp on Friday, there were piles of boxes of donated food, loaves of bread and even diapers, all being watched over by the Tunisian military and handed out with their help.
A colonel who gave his first name as Moassin said more canvas tents were expected but had not yet arrived, to explain why supplies remained exposed to the sun. Tents were being collected from all across Tunisia, he said, but “storage” was a problem.
“The extraordinary generosity and compassion of the Tunisian people who live in this area is humbling,” said Mitchell, the British secretary. “The number of vehicles that have driven up with food and water and clothes for people who are caught in that area by the border is extraordinary.”
At the transit camp, the British minister noted, the UNHCR “have had to tell people not to bring any more food, otherwise it won’t be used and will rot.”
PHOTO GALLERY: Qaddafi: A look back