UN refugee agency declares Libya a humanitarian crisis
PARIS — Almost 100,000 people have fled Libya’s fighting to neighboring Egypt and Tunisia, the U.N. refugee agency said, in what it called a humanitarian emergency.
The numbers seem to have increased over the weekend as armed rebel forces moved closer to a showdown with Moammar Gadhafi and his loyalists, who were standing their ground in Tripoli — the capital — and a handful of other places.
The executive director of the World Food Program traveled to Tunisia on Monday to meet with government officials on refugees’ needs and the impact on the region. In Geneva, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton announced that the U.S. Agency for International Development was dispatching two teams to Libya’s borders in Egypt and Tunisia to assess the need for emergency assistance. She said the aid agency had set aside $10 million for humanitarian assistance and begun an inventory of U.S. emergency food supplies.
On Monday, French Prime Minister Francois Fillon said in Paris that his country was sending two planes carrying doctors, nurses, medications, and medical equipment to the rebels’ eastern stronghold of Benghazi.
People from the United States and many European nations have been evacuated by sea and air from Tripoli and Benghazi, using the island of Malta as a staging point. The European Union said in Brussels that most of its 10,000 people in Libya had left, but that 650 were still asking to be evacuated, many of them from areas where rescue is difficult, The Associated Press reported. China said Monday that it had sent four military transport planes to rescue the remaining 1,000 of some 30,000 of its people who were there before the crisis.
Kristalina Georgieva, the European Union’s crisis response commissioner, said that 1.5 million additional foreigners remained in Libya, increasing pressure on the borders with Egypt and Tunisia as non-Libyans sought to flee.
In a statement Sunday, the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, based in Geneva, said Tunisian authorities to the west had estimated that 40,000 refugees had arrived from Libya in a week. And to the east, Egyptian authorities said 55,000 people had fled since Feb. 19. More than half the total number of refugees were Egyptians, the refugee agency said, but they also included Libyans, Chinese, and people from several other Asian countries.
Television coverage at Libya’s land borders showed mainly poor contract workers carrying few possessions.
Some footage showed hundreds of people crossing into Tunisia, then sitting on the ground, awaiting help.
“We are committed to assisting Tunisia and Egypt in helping each and every person fleeing Libya,” said Antonio Guterres, the high commissioner for refugees. “We call upon the international community to respond quickly and generously to enable these governments to cope with this humanitarian emergency.”