Thursday, March 3, 2011

Over 180,000 refugees flee to Libya's borders

Updated on : Thursday, March 03, 2011

GENEVA: Libyan border crossings were overwhelmed by tens of thousands of hungry, fearful people fleeing its burgeoning civil war. Egypt and a handful of European nations launched emergency airlifts and sent ships to handle the chaotic exodus.

U.N. refugee agency spokeswoman Melissa Fleming said that over 180,000 refugees have reached the border. Over 77,300 people have crossed east from Libya into Egypt, most of them Egyptians, while a similar number have fled west from Libya into Tunisia, she said. Another 30,000 more were still waiting in Libya at the border, trying to get into Tunisia.

She said Libyan strongman Moammar Gadhafi's forces appear to be targeting Egyptians and Tunisians, apparently thinking they are the main trigger of the uprising against Gadhafi's 42-year-old regime. Authoritarian regimes in both neighboring countries have been toppled in the last two months by a wave of popular protests.

"(There are) many, many terrified refugees" in the Libyan capital of Tripoli who are too afraid to move for fear they will be killed, Fleming said.

Some Somali and Eritreans workers around Benghazi, Libya's second largest city which is now under the control of opposition forces, are also feeling "hunted" as they are being mistaken for mercenaries hired by Gadhafi, she said.

Human Rights Watch warned that fleeing African workers were "particularly under threat due to popular anger" over Gadhafi's mercenaries.

As border crossings were overwhelmed with mostly young men, U.N. experts warned that fast action was needed to protect and feed them before a humanitarian crisis or riots broke out.

Angelina Jolie, a U.N. goodwill ambassador for refugees, appealed Wednesday for all nations to give people safe passage, evacuation if needed, and ensure they have asylum.

"All I'm asking is that civilians be protected, and not targeted or harmed," the actress said. "We don't want to look back and find their deaths are on our hands."(AP)

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