Vital to keep borders open for people fleeing Libya, UN agency stresses

Night view of the city of Tobruk in eastern Libya near the Egyptian border. Photo: Abu Samiha

23 February 2011 – The United Nations refugee agency today welcomed the “positive indications” it has received from Tunisia and Egypt that they will keep their borders open for people fleeing violence in neighbouring Libya.

“Given the continued reports of violence and human rights abuses inside Libya it is imperative that people fleeing the country are able to reach safety,” the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) stated in a news release.

A string of UN officials and the Security Council have condemned the violence against protesters in recent days and urged an immediate end to the use of force by the Libyan authorities. Media reports say at least 300 people have been killed during the unrest that began over a week ago.

There have also been reports of the use of military planes to attack protesters, the alleged involvement of foreign mercenaries in killing the protesters, and the arbitrary arrests of individuals including lawyers, human rights defenders and journalists.

According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), some 5,000 people have reportedly arrived at the Tunisian border and some 15,000 at the Egyptian border after fleeing the violence.

UNHCR said it has deployed staff to the Ras Adjir border crossing between Tunisia and Libya to monitor the situation and identify vulnerable individuals who need immediate assistance, and more staff members are being flown in today.

There has been a steady flow of people at the border since yesterday, UNHCR said, adding that most of the arrivals are Tunisian nationals who have been working in Libya.

They are currently staying in local hostels, shelters and with local families. The Tunisian Ministry of Defence has identified a location for the establishment of a temporary camp in the event of a large influx of people, and UNHCR will work with the authorities to set up the camp.

A UNHCR flight carrying tents and other relief items for up to 10,000 people is expected to arrive in Tunisia this weekend.

OCHA noted that it is difficult to assess humanitarian needs because of extremely poor communications. However, it is concerned about access to health services for the injured, lack of medical supplies as well as the need for blood.


News Tracker: past stories on this issue

Libya: Security Council, UN officials urge end to use of force against protesters

Related Stories