UNHCR chief applauds Egypt, calls for humanitarian access to Libya

News Stories, 1 April 2011

© UNHCR/P.Moore
A UNHCR staff member interviews a family at the Egypt-Libya border.

CAIRO, Egypt, April 1 (UNHCR) ¬- UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres has thanked Egypt for helping tens of thousands of people fleeing Libya and called on the international community to recognize the country's generosity with solidarity and support. He also expressed concern about the situation inside Libya and called for humanitarian access to those in need.

"At a time when Egypt is going through its own complex change process, its doors were opened to its neighbours in need," Guterres said, before winding up his visit to Cairo late Thursday and heading for Kenya, where he will visit a camp for Somali refugees.

Since the political crisis in Libya erupted in mid-February, more than 160,000 people have crossed into Egypt from Libya, including some 83,000 Egyptians and 32,000 Libyans. UNHCR staff at the Sallum border crossing said the movement across the border has slowed.

Guterres characterized this country's response to the Libyan crisis as a "new beginning for refugee protection in Egypt." In meetings with Egyptian Prime Minister Essam Sharaf and other top government officials, the High Commissioner praised Egypt for opening its borders to those fleeing Libya.

He also thanked Egypt for allowing UNHCR and its partners to set up temporary shelter at the border area for those waiting to be repatriated. "It is important to ensure the traumatized people who fled Libya have humane conditions at the border area until they can be evacuated or a solution can be found," he said.

Expressing concern about the humanitarian situation inside Libya, where large numbers of people have been displaced by fighting, Guterres said it was "essential that humanitarian access is provided to all people in need throughout Libya."

He said he was particularly struck by accounts he had heard in Cairo of families pleading to be evacuated from the besieged Libyan port of Misrata, which the government has been trying to wrest from anti-government forces. "This is a situation where life-saving humanitarian access should be guaranteed," Guterres said.

The High Commissioner said he was hopeful that UN organizations, including UNHCR, would be able to provide direct aid to people in eastern Libya in the coming days. Misrata is in the west of the country.

During his meetings with top officials, Guterres also received assurances that UNHCR could enhance its refugee assistance programme. With people continuing to enter Egypt from Libya, he declared his commitment to increase the number of resettlement places for refugees who qualify. There are currently some 40,000 refugees and asylum-seekers residing in Egypt, mostly in Cairo.

During his two-day visit, Guterres also met with Amr Moussa, the Egyptian secretary-general of the Arab League, and agreed to take concrete steps to strengthen relations between the two organizations. He had hoped to visit the Egypt-Libya border, but this plan had to be cancelled because of sandstorms.

By Melissa Fleming in Cairo, Egypt



High Commissioner's Libya AppealPlay video

High Commissioner's Libya Appeal

High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres addresses the situation in Tunisia and UNHCR's response to the emergency.

UNHCR country pages

UNHCR Supplementary Appeal

UNHCR Supplementary Budget: The Libya Situation, March 2011


Advocacy is a key element in UNHCR activities to protect people of concern.

Angelina Jolie meets boat people in Malta, Lampedusa

Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie joined UNHCR chief António Guterres on the Italian island of Lampedusa, where they met with boat people who have fled unrest in North Africa.

More than 40,000 people, including refugees and asylum-seekers, have crossed the Mediterranean on overcrowded boats and descended on the small island since the beginning of the year.

The UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador flew to Lampedusa from Malta, which has also been a destination for people fleeing North Africa by boat.

Angelina Jolie meets boat people in Malta, Lampedusa

On the Border: Stuck in Sallum

After violence erupted in Libya in February last year, tens of thousands of people began streaming into Egypt at the Sallum border crossing. Most were Egyptian workers, but almost 40,000 third country nationals also turned up at the border and had to wait until they could be repatriated. Today, with the spotlight long gone, a group of more than 2,000 people remain, mainly single young male refugees from the Sudan. But there are also women, children and the sick and elderly waiting for a solution to their situation. Most are likely to be resettled in third countries, but those who arrived after October are not being considered for resettlement, while some others have been rejected for refugee status. They live in tough conditions at the Egyptian end of the border crossing. A site for a new camp in no man's land has been identified. UNHCR, working closely with the border authorities, plays the major role in providing protection and assistance.

On the Border: Stuck in Sallum

Displacement Challenges for Libya

Libya endured severe upheaval in 2011 and the next government faces major challenges moving the country forward after four decades of Muammar Gaddafi's rigid rule. One task will be addressing and resolving the issue of tens of thousands of internally displaced people. Some are waiting for their homes to be repaired or rebuilt, but many more have been forced to desert their towns and villages because of their perceived support for Gaddafi and alleged crimes committed during the conflict. Meanwhile, growing numbers of people, including refugees and asylum-seekers, are coming to Libya from sub-Saharan Africa on well travelled mixed migration routes. Some are being detained as illegal immigrants, though many are people of concern. Others have risked the dangerous sea crossing to southern Europe.

Displacement Challenges for Libya

UNHCR Syrians KhomsPlay video

UNHCR Syrians Khoms

The end of a long, silent journey: Two Eritreans in Libya Play video

The end of a long, silent journey: Two Eritreans in Libya

Two Eritreans set out on a perilous journey to Europe, crossing Sudan and the Sahara arriving in Libya during its 2011 revolution. They arrive in Tripoli having avoided the risks of detention and despite contending with a crippling handicap: both David and his wife Amitu are deaf and mute.
Khaled Hosseini - No one chooses to be a refugeePlay video

Khaled Hosseini - No one chooses to be a refugee

UNHCR's 2012 World Refugee Day global social advocacy campaign, "Dilemmas", aims to help fight intolerance and xenophobia against refugees. UNHCR Goodwill Envoy Khaled Hosseini and a host of other celebrities echo the same strong message: No one chooses to be a refugee.