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The Humanitarian Crisis in Libya

Xavier Zapata | 09:15 UK time, Wednesday, 2 March 2011


This topic was discussed on World Have Your Say on 2 March 2011.  Listen to the programme.

It's a human tidal wave. As I write, the Tunisian government say eighty thousand people have crossed the border into Tunisia over the past week, escaping the violence in Libya. Most of them are Egyptian migrant workers, but the refugees come from all over the world. Migrants from Sub-Saharan Africa, Vietnam, India, Bangladesh, Turkey, Tunisia, China, and the Phillippines are all scrambling to get away from the conflict in Libya.

There's chaos at the border, people are getting crushed in the crowds as thousands wait, desperate to get out of the country. Our correspondent at the border, Jim Muir, calls it "no man's land." Relief officials admit they've been overwhelmed by the deluge. They're struggling to organise flights and ships to repatriate refugees. Shelter is being set up, with tented transit camps for the migrants. But it seems there's just not enough to go around. Firas Kayal, a spokesman for the UN refugee agency, the UNHCR, says:

As you can see, the needs are much much more than what is being provided there. The situation is significantly increasing and the numbers they keep flowing so there has to be massive effort not just by one country but an international effort to try to ease the situation a little bit. It's a humanitarian crisis, there has to be concerted effort and governments have to take action right now.

Ayman Gharaibeh, another UNHCR official says:

We can see acres of people waiting to cross the border. Many have been waiting for three to four days in the freezing cold, with no shelter or food.

The UNHCR is asking governments in North Africa and Europe to keep all borders open to anyone fleeing Libya. It's also asked Italy to stop sending refugees back to Libya. But Italian interior minister Roberto Maroni says they need the rest of the world to help too:

This is not just a problem for Italy, it's a problem for Europe and the world. This is a catastrophic humanitarian situation.

Various groups are trying to help at the border, including the World Food Programme, the UNHCR, Médecins Sans Frontières, and Save the Children. But in the face of such a massive exodus of people, is this enough? When it comes to taking in these refugees, which countries should shoulder the burden? Is it fair to ask governments in North Africa and Europe to keep all borders open?

We'll be looking at the situation at the border between Libya and Tunisia. Whether it's a relief worker, or a refugee, we'll try to get you in touch with those living through this crisis.

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