4 Mar 2011

'Tsunami' of refugees hits Libyan borders

10:46 am on 4 March 2011

Concern is growing about the plight of tens of thousands of refugees, most of them migrant workers, arriving at Libya's borders with Tunisia and Egypt.

The International Organisation for Migration says 200,000 have crossed into Egypt, Tunisia and Niger since the Libyan uprising began in mid-February.

A United Nations refugee official, Liz Eyster,calls it a tsunami of migrants. The situation on the Tunisian border, in particular, is being described as a humanitarian crisis.

International efforts are being stepped up to help the refugees, with France, Spain and Britain all sending planes to help fly workers home.

The evacuation of thousands stranded at the Tunisian border started on Thursday, the ABC reports, with the transport of hundreds of Egyptians by bus to an airport and port.

Long queues were lined up along the road beside the Choucha camp, where the Tunisian army had taken in some 15,000 people, seven kilometres from the Ras Jedir border post.

"We're going to try to keep a balance by moving on 5000 to 6000 people a day and taking in 5000 to 6000 new refugees a day," camp commander and army doctor Colonel Mohammed Essoussi said.

The Egyptian government has organised 30 evacuation flights, but many more are planned as the logistics fall into place.