2,500 need evacuation daily from Libya borders: UNHCR

18th March 2011, Comments 0 comments

Up to 2,500 people will need to be evacuated daily from Libyan borders with Tunisia and Egypt for the forseeable future in one of the biggest humanitarian evacuations in history, agencies said Friday.

The rate of people fleeing Libya would also be affected by a UN Security Council decision clearing the way for air strikes but it was not clear how much, the UN refugee agency and International Organization for Migration said.

"With the installation of a no-fly zone, we are not clear on what will be the outcome in terms of outflows," IOM emergency and post-crisis division chief Fernando Calado said.

"However, we see that there will be repercussions on migrants," he said.

More than one million migrant workers remain in Libya, including many from sub-Saharan Africa. "The potential case load is important," said Calado.

About 300,000 people have fled Libya since clashes broke out between rebels and pro-regime forces mid-February.

"People keep arriving at the border. There are different flows according to different circumstances in Libya," said UN High Commissioner for Refugees spokeswoman Melissa Fleming.

"But we're estimating that there'll be at least 1,500 to 2,500 people every day in need of evacuation for the time to come," she said.

"This is one of the biggest humanitarian evacuations in history," said William Lacy Swing, who heads the IOM, an inter-governmental organisation.

While those who fled initially were mostly migrant workers, UNHCR noted that there had recently been an increase in the number of Libyans fleeing into Egypt to escape violence.

About 1,490 Libyans crossed the border on Wednesday.

"The majority of those interviewed at the Egypt border said that they left because of fear of being caught up in fighting. Many mentioned the threats made by the government in recent days to bombard Benghazi," said Fleming.

The UNHCR strategy in dealing with the repercussions of the imposition of a no-fly zone in Libya was to prepare for the worst-case scenario, the agency's crisis operations coordinator Andrew Harper said.

"The imposition of a no-fly zone has a number of repercussions which could impact on both the western and eastern borders.

"If there is one strategy that we have, that is to be extremely flexible and be prepared for the worst-case scenario," he said, adding the worst situation would be if Tunisia and Egypt sealed off their borders.

The Libyan regime's advance towards rebel stronghold Benghazi forced the International Committee of the Red Cross to withdraw its staff this week and move them further east to Tobruk.

The IOM has halted operations in Benghazi since the weekend and its local staff are "staying at home," it said.

© 2011 AFP

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