Cash shortfall may halt Libya evacuation: aid agencies

11th March 2011, Comments 0 comments

International aid agencies warned on Friday that they might be forced to halt evacuation flights for thousands of foreign migrants fleeing to Libya's borders every day because of a lack of funding.

The appeal came as the UN refugee agency and the International Organisation for Migration raised concerns about checkpoints in Libya that might be hampering the flow of migrants trying to leave the country.

The IOM said border evacuations could still not keep pace with about 3,000 new arrivals a day in countries neighbouring Libya.

IOM spokesman Jean-Philippe Chauzy said the agency was spending $3 million a day on evacuations, but that its $49.2 million funding appeal for the operation was $22 million short.

"If we do not urgently receive new financing, we may unfortunately be obliged to suspend the programme of humanitarian evacuations, which would have catastrophic impact on people who are extremely frustrated at waiting any longer," he told journalists.

"Our joint message with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) for governments is, do not drop your guard."

"The situation inside Libya is still extremely fluid, major flows could restart at any moment," Chauzy warned.

About 17,000 migrants from 25 countries are still at Choucha camp on the Tunisian border, most of them Bangladeshis, while 4,000 were in Egypt.

Flights can only cope with 800 to 1,200 departures, and long haul carriers are still suffering from a "huge shortage" , according to the UNHCR.

Both agencies also said that migrants fleeing to Tunisia reported that some people were being held back at a host of military checkpoints on the way in government-held western Libya, but in "small numbers".

"New arrivals in Tunisia continue to describe many checkpoints between Tripoli and Ras Jdir border crossing, some say in excess of 100," said UNHCR spokeswoman Melissa Fleming.

Fleeing migrants consistently pointed to telephones, SIM cards and cash being taken at the checkpoints, as well as threats and discrimination based on skin colour.

"This is something we are very concerned about, we don't know whether the checkpoints mean some are being hindered and turned back," Fleming said.

"Some of them have conveyed to us their suspicions that these checkpoints are serving both as an intimidating factor... but also that some people depending on who they are might be prevented from leaving," she added.

© 2011 AFP

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