Scuffles between Tunisian troops, stranded workers

AP News
Posted: Mar 10, 2011 4:06 PM
Scuffles between Tunisian troops, stranded workers

Scuffles erupted Thursday at a transit camp for thousands of migrant workers who fled fighting in Libya and are stranded in neighboring Tunisia.

Tunisian troops pushed back hundreds of angry laborers from Bangladesh who tried to force their way into a U.N. storage facility at the camp. The protesters said they are not getting enough to eat and aren't being repatriated quickly enough. At one point, troops beat demonstrators next to them before the situation was brought under control.

Troops asked journalists observing the confrontations to leave the camp.

In all, more than 250,000 migrant workers have fled Libya for neighboring countries, primarily Tunisia and Egypt, since an uprising against Libyan strongman Moammar Gadhafi erupted more than three weeks ago, migration officials said.

While tens of thousands have already been flown home by their governments, thousands more, mainly from Bangladesh and several African countries, have had to wait for aid agencies to repatriate them because their countries do not have the means to do so.

The exodus from Libya has remained steady over the past few days, with between 2,000 and 3,000 reaching Tunisia every day, said Firas Kayal, a spokesman for the U.N. agency for refugees. The new arrivals are taken to a transit camp several miles from the Tunisian-Libyan border, where more than 2,300 tents have been pitched to shelter them.

A majority at the camp are from Bangladesh, and their evacuation has been more difficult to arrange, in part because of the distance of travel involved.

About 4,000 have been flown home over the past three days, leaving just over 10,000 Bangladeshis in the transit camp, said Jean Philippe Chauzy, a spokesman for the International Organization for Migration, an intergovernmental group.

Kayal said that while the situation at the border has largely stabilized, the international community should not stop its efforts.

He said more planes, ships and funds are needed to get the stranded workers home, particularly those from Bangladesh. "We need to keep up the momentum in dealing with the situation and providing transportation to the people," he said.

In Tunis, a visiting State Department official said that the U.S. is increasing its assistance to the refugees by $17 million. That sum comes in addition to $30 million pledged to groups working under U.N. auspices to cope with the influx of refugees, said Eric Schwartz, who heads the State Department's Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration.

Schwartz said a solution to the crisis must also have a political dimension. Repeating statements by President Barack Obama, he said that Gadhafi must end violence against his own people and relinquish control of the country so that Libya can take the road to democracy.

Australian Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd also emphasized the need for international action in the face of Gadhafi's offensive against a pro-democracy uprising. During a visit to Tunisia, spoke in favor of a no-fly zone as one of the measures.


Associated Press writer Bouazza Ben Bouazza in Tunis, Tunisia, contributed to this report.