UNHCR fears civilians may be prevented from fleeing Libya

The number of civilians fleeing Libya to Tunisia has dropped significantly since Wednesday afternoon, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, who feared people are worried about being prevented to leave.

"The border on the Libyan side is now manned by heavily armed pro-government forces. From those who did manage to cross the border, we have heard that mobile phones and cameras were being confiscated en route. Many people appear to be frightened and are unwilling to speak," said the UNHCR spokeswoman Melissa Fleming during a press briefing in Geneva on Friday.

She estimated fewer than 2,000 people made it into Tunisia on Thursday, compared to 10,000 to 15,000 each day earlier this week.

"UNHCR is very concerned that the security situation in Libya may be preventing people from fleeing," added Fleming.

Meanwhile, Egypt has repatriated tens of thousands of their own nationals.

Some 119,000 Egyptian nationals working in Libya have returned to Egypt on 352 Egyptair flights since violence erupted on 17 February, according to a statement from Egypt's Foreign Ministry on Thursday.

Assistant Foreign Minister Abdel Hakam said on Thursday that an Egyptian naval vessel, the "Shalatin," had arrived in Alexandria on Wednesday carrying large numbers of Egyptians from Libya.

Another Egyptian naval vessel, the "Halayeb," set out on Thursday from Tunis to Alexandria, also bearing large numbers of Egyptian nationals.

Yet another ship, chartered by the International Organization for Migration, arrived to Egypt on Thursday, also carrying large numbers of Egyptians, while Turkey has also reportedly dispatched a ship to Libyan capital Tripoli for the same purpose.

Meanwhile, Reuters reported that the United Nations will launch an emergency appeal on Monday to help people affected by the Libyan violence. The International Committee of the Red Cross, which had two of its ambulances shot at in Libya on Thursday, has already requested 6 million Swiss francs ($6.5 million) to provide medical and other assistance, said the agency.


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