'Acres of people' waiting to flee Libya into Tunisia: UNHCR
The UNHCR made a plea Wednesday for hundreds of planes to end a gridlock at the Tunisia border with revolt-hit Libya, where "acres of people" are still waiting to cross in freezing conditions.
"My colleague on the ground say that acres of people, as far as you can see, are waiting to cross," UNHCR spokeswoman Sybella Wilkes told AFP.
"There's a huge building and there are thousands behind," she added.
"They are outdoors in the freezing cold, under the rain, many of them have spent three or four nights outside already," said the spokeswoman.
One acre is approximately the size of an American football field.
"It's really chaotic. Into Egypt we have 77,320 people who have crossed. A similar number have crossed into Tunisia, it's possible that it's even 10,000 more.
"So we're looking at over 150,000 people who have fled into the two countries," said Wilkes.
At the Egyptian border, authorities have been able to funnel those who have crossed to other cities.
Only about 3,000 people were sheltered at the arrival hall there, said Wilkes, noting that the situation was "more straightforward" given that it involves mostly Egyptians heading home.
However, the UN refugees agency said it was particularly concerned about the situation on the Tunisian side of the border, where a huge transit camp has been set up for those who have already crossed over from Libya.
Up to 10,000 people spent the night in the tents, with people squeezed like sardines inside each of the shelters in a bid to keep out of the rain and cold, said the agency.
About 85 percent of those who have crossed into Tunisia are Egyptian migrant workers, while the rest are from as far afield as Bangladesh, China and Vietnam.
"The airport is already overstretched, not enough planes are coming to take these migrants home. We urgently need to see tens if not hundreds of planes," said Wilkes.
"These are people who just want to go home. We need to free up the space so that these border areas don't become places where diseases get out of hand," she added.
© 2011 AFP