France sends planes, ship to help Egyptians fleeing Libya
France is to send heavy-lift planes and a ship to create a land and sea bridge to ferry 5,000 Egyptian refugees fleeing Libya home from the Tunisian border, the foreign ministry said Wednesday.
Amid clashes between Moamer Kadhafi's forces and rebels, ministry spokesman Bernard Valero said Paris was also seeking ways "to send tents and emergency supplies to vulnerable people who have not yet left Libya."
France's initial focus, however, will be on the situation on Libya's border with Tunisia, where tens of thousands of refugees are attempting to flee the conflict and threatening to provoke a humanitarian crisis.
Valero said the priority was to help stranded Egyptian workers to get home.
"With rotations by heavy-lift planes on the one hand, and a naval transport ship that will soon be in the zone on the other, we ought to be able to move at least 5,000 people in under a week," he said.
"France decided on March 1 to assist, by air and sea means, in the evacuation to Egypt of Egyptian workers seeking refuge on the Tunisia-Libya border," Valero told reporters.
"This action, carried out in coordination with the European Union, responds to international appeals launched by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and by Egypt," he said.
"It is also a means to help Tunisia, which is facing a refugee influx."
More than 170,000 people have fled Libya since the uprising began just over two weeks ago, of which 75,000 headed to Tunisia, 63,000 to Egypt and 800 to Niger, Valero said, citing United Nations estimates.
He said that the High Commissioner had warned that the situation on the Libyan-Tunisian frontier is "becoming particularly critical."
© 2011 AFP