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North Africa Humanitarian Situation

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Responding to the Libya Crisis

In February 2011, anti-government protests erupted in Libya and soon turned violent. The conflict has since increased and triggered a massive outflow of people to neighbouring countries, especially Tunisia to the west and Egypt to the east. By late August, some 656,000 people had fled from Libya, mostly migrant workers from Egypt and Tunisia but including many more nationalities.

The UN refugee agency swiftly responded to this emergency, sending teams to both Egypt and Tunisia. Staff at the UNHCR office in the Libyan capital of Tripoli have continued to work to help a caseload of around 8,000 refugees and 3,000 asylum-seekers, some of whom are now in Tunisia and Egypt. UNHCR has also established a presence in Benghazi and Tobruk in the east of the country.

UNHCR has airlifted tonnes of aid, including tents for thousands of people at the borders and items such as kitchen sets, blankets, sleeping mats, jerry cans and tarpaulins. In August, UNHCR launched a Libya Ramadan initiative, providing hundreds of people in Benghazi with their evening meal during the Islamic month of fasting. In western Libya, UNHCR trucked in food while food packages have been distributed for 55,000 Libyans in southern Tunisia.

At the request of the Tunisian government, UNHCR and its partners have set up a number of camps close to the Ras Adjir border post and in Tataouine province. At the end of August, more than 4,000 refugees and asylum-seekers were being hosted in three camps near the Ras Adjir crossing. Further south, tens of thousands of Libyans, mainly of Berber ethnicity, have fled the Western Mountains and found shelter in Tunisia. Several hundred are in two camps in Remada and Tataouine, but the vast majority are being hosted by local families. UNHCR has registered almost 60,000 Libyan refugees (11,830 families) in southern Tunisia's five main provinces. In parallel, UNHCR has distributed ration cards to Libyan refugees in urban areas throughout Tunisia.

Early in the crisis, a huge number of migrant workers fled to Tunisia and Egypt. To help these people and to decongest the border area, UNHCR and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) on March 1 launched a joint humanitarian evacuation operation. This initiative, together with air and sea evacuations organized by individual governments, dramatically relieved the overcrowding at the borders. As of late August, more than 144,000 people had been repatriated by UNHCR and the IOM, while hundreds of thousands more have returned home with the help of their governments.

High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres has visited Tunisia twice and Egypt once since the conflict began. The first time he was with IOM Director-General William Swing to assess the situation and thank the governments for hosting so many people.

UNHCR Hotline numbers:

In Libya

Land line:+218-21-4777503 (24 hours)

Mobile:+218-92-552-3671 (9:00 to 14:00 hours)

Mobile:+218-91-444-31-94

Mobile:+218-92-686-23-38

In Geneva

+41 22 739 8618

+41 22 739 7484

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Going home

During the past two weeks, UNHCR has worked with the Tunisian government, Tunisian Red Crescent and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) to respond to the dramatic influx of over 90,000 people fleeing the violence in Libya. The majority are migrant workers from Egypt, Tunisia, Bangladesh, China, Thailand and Vietnam. Tens of thousands were flown home following an appeal from UNHCR and IOM to governments to send flights to evacuate them.

Going home

Stuck at the Egyptian border

Some three weeks after the Libyan displacement crisis erupted in mid-February, thousands of people were still stuck at the border between Libya and Egypt waiting for onward travel to their home countries. Many have arrived exhausted at the Sallum crossing after travelling for days without adequate food or water. Some told harrowing tales of armed men going door to door at night, forcing people from sub-Saharan Africa to leave after destroying their identity papers and taking their money.

More long-haul flights to Bangladesh and other Asian destinations are needed to decongest the border, although people from countries like Eritrea and Somalia cannot go home. As a result, many people have been stuck at the border for days, sleeping outside in the cold. UNHCR has provided blankets, plastic mats, food and water for those waiting to be repatriated.

More than 100,000 people have arrived at the Sallum border since the start of the Libyan uprising. The majority have been migrant workers from Egypt who were allowed through immigration and customs quickly, but many nationalities have also turned up at the border and having to wait.

Stuck at the Egyptian border

Crush at the Tunisian border

At the Tunisia-Libya border, a heaving crush of thousands of people anxious to leave the insecurity of Libya gathered in no-man's land and on the Libyan side of the border on 2 March, 2011. Most were young men, principally migrant workers from Tunisia and Egypt. They were desperate to go home or find shelter and safety in Tunisia. After several nights sleeping out in the open, many were exhausted and hungry. As the crowd surged towards the border gate, several people were injured. The Tunisian Red Crescent is on hand to provide medical support for all those in need. UNHCR officials were also waiting on the Tunisian side of the border, supporting the Tunisian authorities and aid organizations.

Crush at the Tunisian border

Crisis in Libya

UNHCR is working with the Tunisian and Egyptian authorities and aid groups to manage the dramatic influx of tens of thousands of people fleeing Libya. By the beginning of March, two weeks after the violence erupted in Libya, more than 140,000 people had fled to the neighbouring countries, while thousands more were waiting to cross. Most are Egyptian and Tunisian nationals, though small numbers of Libyans and other nationalities are managing to escape. UNHCR is particularly concerned about thousands of refugees and other foreigners trapped inside Libya, especially people from sub-Saharan Africa. The following photo essay gives a glimpse into what is happening at the borders.

Crisis in Libya

Tunisia's tented transit camp

A new camp full of UNHCR tents, has sprung up close to Tunisia's border with Libya to provide shelter to thousands of migrant workers desperate to get hope. The UNHCR-run facility is already full, with 15,000 people from around Africa and Asia who have fled from Libya.

Most of the new arrivals are penniless and have no hope of making it home on their own. Many of the sub-Saharan Africans arriving at the camp say they fled because of threats and abuse, with some being attacked and robbed in their homes as well as at the checkpoints that have sprung up along many roads in Libya. Non-African arrivals also report having their belongings taken at the checkpoints, but say they have not been the victims of racism and threats.

With people continuing to arrive daily, UNHCR and other agencies are bracing themselves for what could be a large-scale humanitarian disaster if the fighting worsens and if large numbers of Libyans try to flee their country.

Tunisia's tented transit camp

Tunisia: Angelina Jolie on the Libya BorderPlay video

Tunisia: Angelina Jolie on the Libya Border

UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie visits refugees fleeing violence in Libya in a camp in Tunisia.
Tunisia: Dashed HopesPlay video

Tunisia: Dashed Hopes

Victor left Nigeria 10 years ago in search of a better life and ended up in Libya. In escaping the violence there, he has lost everything he worked for.
Tunisia: No Way HomePlay video

Tunisia: No Way Home

Among the tens of thousands fleeing the violence in Libya is one group of particularly vulnerable people. They come from countries in conflict and cannot go home.
Libya: Scared and in HidingPlay video

Libya: Scared and in Hiding

They hide in the shadows, so afraid that they don't even want to answer the door. These Africans from sub-Saharan countries fear for their lives in Libya.
Tunisia: Finding RefugePlay video

Tunisia: Finding Refuge

Some 15,000 people are staying in a camp just inside Tunisia after fleeing Libya. Many have stories about increasing violence in Libya and of being targeted by gangs.
Libya: A Boat Out . . . for SomePlay video

Libya: A Boat Out . . . for Some

A group of Bangladeshi workers leave the coastal Libya town of Benghazi by boat. But some Somalis are not so fortunate.
Tunisia: A Camp of NationsPlay video

Tunisia: A Camp of Nations

A sea of tents at a camp near Tunisia's border with Libya harbours a mix of many nationalities. What they share is the wish to go home.
Egypt: Stranded at the BorderPlay video

Egypt: Stranded at the Border

Thousands of people are stranded at Egypt's Sallum border crossing with Libya. Many of them are migrant workers, like these exhausted Bangladeshi men.
Tunisia: DeparturesPlay video

Tunisia: Departures

Foreign migrant workers queue to leave Tunisia. A massive evacuation programme has repatriated thousands who fled Libya.
Egypt: Egyptians Cross Back HomePlay video

Egypt: Egyptians Cross Back Home

A steady stream of people have been crossing into Egypt from Libya. These migrant workers were elated to return home.
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.