Libya: Neighbouring countries must keep borders open to those fleeing chaos

Amnesty International is urging countries neighbouring Libya to keep their borders open to migrants as fears of a humanitarian crisis grow with thousands of migrants attempting to flee unrest in the country.

Yesterday the UN’s refugee agency (the UNHCR) warned that Tunisia needs help to deal with up to 75,000 people who had fled Libya since February 20. It said many thousands remained stuck at the border between the two countries in freezing conditions.

The UNHCR said 69,000 people had also crossed into Egypt from Libya since 19 February. Meanwhile Amnesty is concerned by a UNHCR report that migrants in Libya who originate from countries in sub-Saharan Africa were being turned back at the Tunisian border.

Amnesty International Director of Law and Policy Michael Bochenek said:

“All Libya’s neighbouring states must keep their borders open and provide assistance to all those fleeing violence. They are obliged to do this under international law.

“All those fleeing the chaos in Libya must be given sanctuary by neighbouring states without discrimination - not refused entry and put at risk of falling victim to further violence.

“The international community must also do all it can to offer urgent support and assistance to the Tunisian authorities and other states accepting those fleeing the violence, and help migrants return safely to their home countries as quickly as possible if they desire.”

About 14,000 Filipinos are trapped in Libya, according to the Philippines Labour Department. The Labour Department estimated that there were 30,000 Filipinos working in Libya before the crisis began there though the Philippine group Migrante-ME has estimated that they totalled nearer 150,000. Migrante-ME has said that some workers have been hiding in Tripoli while many others are stuck in Libya's oil production areas.

Other foreign migrants workers include an estimated 60,000 Bangladeshis and between 2,000 and 5,000 Nepalis with many struggling to find a way out.

It is estimated that were more than a million refugees, asylum-seekers and migrants in Libya before the current crisis, most of them from sub-Saharan Africa.

Michael Bochenek added:

"The international community must also provide aid to the UNHCR and other bodies struggling to deal with this crisis. They must also act quickly, before the problem gets even worse."

Amnesty is also calling for:

* Neighbouring countries to allow entry to all arrivals from Libya - of Libyan nationals as well as nationals of other states.

* Receiving countries to address the immediate needs of arrivals (shelter and accommodation, food, medical services) pending their referral to appropriate services and procedures that address their situation more directly.

* The international community to assist countries receiving those fleeing Libya with their immediate needs, including with the provision of resources necessary to ensure that people can reach a place of safety.

* Receiving countries to allow Libyan nationals temporary protection to allow time for the situation in Libya to be clarified and possible longer-term solutions for them to be identified.

* Countries to screen, separate, and respond appropriately to those who are implicated in serious criminal acts, notably crimes under international law.

* The referral of those who have been recognised as refugees or are asylum-seekers to national asylum procedures or to the UNHCR.

* Countries to provide assistance to those third-country nationals who do not claim international protection to enable them to return in safety to their homes.

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