Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Libya: Alarm at reports of violence against sub-Saharan migrants

A group of people heading towards the Libyan border with Tunisia

UN - The United Nations refugee agency today voiced alarm at increasing accounts of violence and discrimination in Libya against sub-Saharan Africans in both the rebel-held east and the Government-controlled west, including the reported rape of a 12-year-old girl.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) “reiterates its call on all parties to recognize the vulnerability of both refugees and migrants from sub-Saharan Africa and to take measures to ensure their protection,” spokesman Adrian Edwards told a news briefing in Geneva.

Yesterday Sudanese refugees arriving from eastern Libya at the Egyptian border told UNHCR that armed Libyans were going door to door, forcing sub-Saharan Africans to leave. “In one instance a 12-year-old Sudanese girl was said to have been raped,” Mr. Edwards said.

“They reported that many people had their documents confiscated or destroyed. We heard similar accounts from a group of Chadians who fled Benghazi, Al Bayda and Brega in the past few days.”

The number of people who have fled the violence since the start of mass protests against Muammar Al-Qadhafi three weeks ago has passed 212,000, including 112,000 in Tunisia, more than half of them Tunisian and Egyptians migrants; 98,000 in Egypt, over two thirds of them Egyptian; and 2,000 in Niger, mainly Niger nationals.

UNHCR has also heard from the Algerian Government that more than 4,000 people have arrived in Algeria by air, land and sea, including evacuations from Tunisia and Egypt.

In New York, the Security Council discussed the possibility of imposing a no-flight zone among various options. “The Council had a very serious, very inter-active discussion on the various issues involved,” Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs B. Lynn Pascoe told reporters after briefing the 15-member body.

“The difficulties people have getting out, the clear actions that are being taken against the people … this is a matter of huge concern for all of us in the Secretariat, certainly for the Security Council,” he said, noting that Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon had as yet received no further details on the request he made in a telephone conversation with Libyan Foreign Minister Musa Kusa on Sunday to send a humanitarian assessment team to Tripoli, the capital.

UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres is in Tunisia today to meet with officials and visit the border area, where he will meet with local community members who have offered aid, shelter and solidarity to the tens of thousands of migrants and refugees.

Another group that has been facing particular hardship are Bangladeshi migrants, with some 3,500 stranded at the Egyptian border, many of whom have been waiting for up to 10 days for onward transport. They are becoming “increasingly agitated,” Mr. Edwards said, and one Bangladeshi man died over the weekend after a fight over food distribution.

Many are sleeping outside in the bitter cold as available shelter is filled to capacity. Over 14,000 meals were distributed to people stranded at the border yesterday, where overall some 5,000 people are awaiting onwards transport.

At both the Egyptian and Tunisian borders, most of those awaiting evacuation are Bangladeshi single men. There is a critical shortage at present of long-haul flights to Bangladesh, other Asian countries and sub-Saharan Africa, Mr. Edwards said, noting that UNHCR and the inter-governmental International Organization for Migration (IOM) are using cash contributions to charter planes and several donor countries have offered long-haul flights.

“Nevertheless, with an estimated 40 to 50 flights needed to repatriate all the migrants, further support will be needed to ensure that everyone is transported home,” he added.

At the Tunisian border with Libya, the number of arrivals has dropped considerably, compared to a week ago, with 2,485 people arriving yesterday, coinciding with intensified fighting in western Libya that has reduced mobility. Recent arrivals describe numerous military road blocks along the route, with the majority reporting that they are searched for mobile phones, memory cards and simcards,” Mr. Edwards said.

UNHCR’s tented transit camp in Choucha, close to the border, currently holds 15,000 people, 311 of them with protection concerns, including Somalis and Eritreans.

Meanwhile, a convoy of trucks from the UN World Food Programme (WFP) entered Libya last night and is due to arrive in the eastern city of Benghazi today with 70 metric tons of high-energy, fortified date bars, the first delivery of UN food aid to enter the country.

WFP is mobilizing food for the hungry as part of a $39.2 million emergency operation to feed more than 1 million people in Libya, Egypt and Tunisia over a three-month period. Preparations are under way for delivery of another 70 metric tons of the locally-produced date bars, and 150 metric tons of wheat flour, taken from the stocks of WFP operations in Egypt.

A shipment of 1,182 metric tons of wheat flour which turned back from Benghazi on Thursday amid security concerns, set sail for Libya again today.

Some 80 metric tons of WFP high energy biscuits, airlifted to the Tunisian border last week, are now being distributed as part of the food rations for new arrivals there.