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Migrant workers fleeing Libya appeal for help

Bangladeshis say had no assistance from government.


March 2, 2011 12:20 by

Thousands of Bangladheshi migrant workers, desperate to leave Libya, pressed up against the gates of the Tunisian border crossing on Wednesday, angry at their government for sending no help.

Some have been sleeping for four days in the open on the Libyan side of the border at Ras Jdir with no food aid, through hot days and cold nights.

With an appeal written in English on a bedsheet, they called on the governments of Tunisia and the world to save the lives of 30,000 Bangladeshis.

Mohamed Aslan, 35, from the Bangladeshi district of Jessore, speaking for the crowd behind him, said it was their great misfortune to be born in Bangladesh.

“This is the very sorrow of our time because we are born in Bangladesh,” he said in English. “Nobody from the Bangladesh government came to ask us what is our situation, how can we leave or to bring any kind of help.”

Groups of West African migrant workers also in the crowd chanted for help and held up the flags of Ghana and Nigeria.

The refugees, who get no assistance on the Libyan side, were waiting for Tunisia border officials to open the gates and begin another day of processing thousands of entrants fleeing violence in Libya.

Workers shovelled away the broken bags and discarded clothing and other rubbish left by a tide of Egyptian refugees who flowed over the border on Tuesday.

Thousands of Bangladeshis had gone legally to Libya but thousands also went without contracts and were now destitute.

The refugee emergency created by the uprising against Muammar Gaddafi in Libya and the ensuing violence is straining Tunisia’s aid capacity to the limit.

The United Nations refugee agency UNHCR continues to expand a tent city that will shelter up to 20,000 mainly Egyptian refugees whose evacuation from Tunisia is simply taking too long, aid officials say.

Around the border buildings, under a grove of trees, hundreds of refugees have built a ramshackle camp of their own with shelters made of piled baggage and plastic sheeting. They huddled around camp-fires in the early morning chill.

Tunisian army colonel Mohamed Essoussi and UNHCR team leader Ayman Gharaibeh said more planes and ships were needed to repatriate over 50,000 who had fled Libya in the past few days but had still not moved on.

Only some 20,000 have been repatriated, and with untold numbers still expected the build-up of those waiting in transit could become overwhelming. (Editing by Alison Williams)


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