Babylon & Beyond

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LIBYA: Refugees at Tunisian border finally getting to go home

March 3, 2011 | 11:02 am

Refugees stranded for days at the Tunisian border after fleeing the turmoil in Libya got some welcome news Thursday, when word spread that an international airlift was being organized to take them home, according to reports from Reuters news agency.

According to the newswire service, Egyptian migrant laborers were being bused from a United Nations relief agency transit camp near the Ras Jdir border crossing to Tunisia’ Djerba airport, where around 40 evacuation flights were scheduled to fly them to Cairo during the day.

 Reuters reported long lines and packed terminals at Djerba airport.

The news agency quoted France’s ambassador to Tunisia as saying France would provide six flights every day for the next few days; and British charter flights had also begun to shuttle passengers to Egypt.

Firas Kayal, a spokesperson for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, told Reuters that between 90,000 and 95,000 people had fled Libya into neighboring Tunisia since Feb. 20.

Egyptian authorities said 43,000 of their nationals had crossed and 30,000 had already been taken home, Kayal told Reuters.

Other migrant workers stranded in Tunisia included nationals of Bangladesh, Vietnam and several sub-Saharan African nations, according to officials from international aid organizations.

Reuters reported that the flow of people trying to leave Libya had significantly slowed, but said it was unclear whether this meant all those who wanted to leave had gotten out, or whether they were still trapped on the Libyan side of the border.

-- Ann M. Simmons