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Exodus from Libya; foreigners targeted
afrol News, 23 February - Following the violent attacks on civilians during the Libyan unrest, a wave of people streams into Tunisia and Egypt. Tunisians, Egyptians report being targeted by Libyan police.
Egypt Red Crescent volunteer assisting civilian injured in the protests
|© Egypt Red Crescent/afrol News|
During the past two days, both the Egyptian and Tunisian border have been opened to people fleeing the violence in Libya. The large masses comprise of some Libyans, but even more Tunisian and Egyptian citizens residing in Libya.
An estimated 1.5 million foreigners live in Libya; the largest group being Egyptian nationals. Since yesterday, a mass exodus of Egyptians has been registered at the Salum border crossing, now in hands of the Libyan protesters. The Egyptian military and the Red Crescent have established reception facilities at the border.
There were scenes of panic and of chaos. Egyptian border guards do not have the capacity to control the papers of the thousands and more thousands streaming over the border with a few suitcases and belongings. Many need immediate medical care - provided at the border - and other only want to return to their Egyptian home town as quick as possible.
The returning Egyptians tell stories of terror. Terror against Libyan protesters and terror against foreigners.
Libyan authorities early pointed to foreigners as standing behind the unrest, especially blaming Egyptians and Tunisians allegedly trying to spread their revolutions. Consequently, Egyptians and Tunisians have been especially targeted by Libyan security forces.
At the Libyan-Tunisian border, opened today, the scenes are even more dramatic. While the Egyptians mostly have fled the "liberated" eastern part of Libya - the route from western Libya and the capital, Tripoli, to Egypt is not reachable - the many Tunisians now streaming out of Libya reside in the Tripoli area.
Here, violence is much worse as Libyan security forces still operate in the area. Returning Tunisians tell grotesque tales of police attacks on civilians and especially foreigners. Injured Tunisians tell about how they were arrested just for being Tunisians, put away in jail for several days and severely tortured.
The Tunisian army is assisted by the Red Crescent and the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) at the Ben Guerdane border post. They try to assist the thousands arriving with emergency health care, basic accommodation and onward travel.
A local Red Crescent officials reports that, in addition to several thousand returning Tunisians, there were some Lebanese, Turkish, Syrian and three German nationals who had arrived asking for onward travel assistance.
Meanwhile, there are increased concerns about a last, very volatile group in Libya; the large group of illegal or irregular African migrants and asylum seekers in Libya. With increasing reports that the Ghaddafi regime is using "black African mercenaries," there are concerns these irregular migrants could be targeted by the protesting population.
According to the UN's refugee agency UNHCR, the UN "has become increasingly concerned" about this group. "We have no access at this time to the refugee community," confirmed UNHCR spokesperson Melissa Fleming today.
"Some of the reports we are getting from third-party sources are very worrying," she added. "A journalist has passed information to us from Somalis in Tripoli who say they are being hunted on suspicion of being mercenaries. He says they feel trapped and are frightened to go out, even though there is little or no food at home," Ms Fleming said.
By staff writer
© afrol News
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