Geneva/Tunis, March 1 (DPA) The UN refugee agency warned Tuesday that the situation at the Libya-Tunisia border was reaching “crisis point” as thousands of people flee the violence in Libya.
The Tunisian border point of Ras Jdir has been swamped by tens of thousands of refugees since the uprising against Moamer Gaddafi’s regime began two weeks ago. Libya’s eastern border with Tunisia has also seen an exodus of foreign workers.
Most are Egyptians but they also include Bangladeshis, Ghanaians, Malians and Tunisians. Most left Libya with little more than their clothes and have no way of making their own way home.
Melissa Fleming, a UNHCR spokeswoman in Geneva, said local authorities and volunteers were “seriously overstretched”.
On Monday alone, 14,000 people crossed from Libya to Tunisia, the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) reported.
The Red Cross in Tunisia appealed for urgent international assistance to evacuate the refugees from the border.
“The situation is really catastrophic,” Mongi Slim, head of the Red Cross regional committee, told French BFM television, calling for ships and “a large number of planes” to be sent to take the arrivals to their home countries.
The movement has intensified in recent days with huge crowds swamping Ras Jdir, waiting for days without food or shelter from the freezing desert night to get through.
Slim complained the response from the outside had been “very slow”.
The UNHCR has erected 500 tents along the Tunisian/Libyan border and announced plans for another 1,000 Tuesday, which would give shelter to 12,000 people in total.
The International Committee of the Red Cross meanwhile warned that it still did not have access to vast swathes of Libya, two weeks after the crisis began.
“It is high time people’s humanitarian needs are met and humanitarian agencies can enter into rest of the country and help those in need,” said ICRC spokeswoman Anna Nelson, urging both sides in Libya not to attack patients and doctors.
The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said that the largest concern was for the west of Libya, where access and information were very limited. In Benghazi in the east, the situation was said to be calm and aid was being accepted.
Prior to the crisis, there were an estimated 1.5 million migrant workers in Libya.
UN agencies said concern was mounting for the safety of those workers from sub-Saharan Africa, who are in the most precarious situation, are being hunted down and have largely not been evacuated.