Sunday,23 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1208, (7 - 13 August 2014)
Sunday,23 September, 2018
Issue 1208, (7 - 13 August 2014)

Ahram Weekly

Stranded on the border

Egyptians are fleeing Libya as attacks on foreigners rise, thousands unable to find their way home, writes Kamel Abdallah

Al-Ahram Weekly

As rival militias from the cities of Misrata and Zintan trade blows in a bid to control parts of Tripoli, foreigners are leaving the city in droves. Commanders of renegade General Khalifa Haftar, who had promised to rid Libya of all rogue militias, told foreigners that this would be a good time to depart.

The exodus from Tripoli is said to be on a scale unseen since the revolt against former dictator Muammar Gaddafi in 2011. And many countries have sent military planes and navy vessels to evacuate their nationals from the embattled country.

Egyptian workers, many working in construction, are now trying to leave Libya in their thousands, but thoousands have been stuck on the Tunisian border, and there are reports of some being shot at and many having their belongings stolen.

The absence of an Egyptian diplomatic mission in Tripoli meant that the government, which started an airlift to bring the workers and their families from Tunisia, had trouble coordinating the evacuation. The Egyptian diplomatic mission left Tripoli in January after some of its members were abducted.

Since clashes flared up in Tripoli three weeks ago, many Egyptian residents sought to leave the country through the Ras Jedir crossing, but Tunisia has temporarily closed this crossing, citing difficulties in dealing with the massive influx of refugees, many of whom are Libyans.

A Libyan security official in Ras Jedir, who spoke to Al-Ahram Weekly by phone, described the situation as “dire”. He said that a large number of Egyptians are stranded on the border and are not receiving the care they need in view of the “limited abilities” of the Libyan authorities.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, as he wasn’t authorised to speak to the media, said that Egyptian workers complain that they are not receiving the kind of help they had hoped for. In particular, the number of planes sent to Tunisia was much less than needed, he added.

Some Egyptian residents have been robbed while on their way to the crossing, and many say that they have no money for the trip back to Egypt, said the Libyan official.

On Saturday, the Libyan interior minister urged both Egypt and Tunisia to do more to help end the crisis of refugees gathered at the border.

Earlier this week, Tunisian security forces fired shots above the heads of refugees and tried to disperse them with tear gas as they attempted to make their way across Ras Jedir.

The Tunisians, for their part, said that they could not afford to take care of tens of thousands of refugees trying to get across to their side. The economic situation of Tunisia, according to Foreign Minister Mongi Hamid, is “too fragile” to deal with the current movement of refugees.

According to the latest reports, there is close to 6,000 Egyptian refugees caught up at the Libyan side of the Ras Jedir crossing.

Some reports said that several Egyptians were shot dead on the Libyan side of the border, without giving further details. But neither Egyptian nor Libyan officials confirmed such claims.

Egyptian workers who returned from Libya have complained that Egyptian officials sent to the border of Tunisia didn’t do enough to help them out. But for the past few days, the Egyptian government has been operating an airlift to transport many stranded nationals from Djerba to Cairo.

The Egyptian exodus from Libya picked up pace after Mohammad Al-Hejazi, spokesman for General Haftar, urged all foreigners to leave the country without delay.

During the recent turmoil, rival factions — while trading accusations among themselves — blamed foreigners for Libya’s current ordeals, and there has been a rise in attacks against foreigners since then.

In Sirte, in central Libya, reports speak of hundreds of Egyptian workers leaving over the past two weeks. At least a dozen vans, each with more than 12 passengers aboard, leave Sirte heading by land to Egypt every day, sources say.

The sudden departure of Egyptians is likely to affect the Libyan economy, according to local observers.

A Sirte-based building contractor said that the departure of Egyptians would lead to labour shortages, especially in the construction industry, which is dependent on Egyptian workers.

Sirte has recently experienced a construction boom, following payment of compensation to people who lost their homes in the recent conflict.

Recent clashes in Tripoli and Benghazi have left more than 200 dead and many more injured. Airports in both cities were closed due to fighting that caused fires in nearby fuel facilities.

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