Tens of thousands of desperate refugees were packing the Tunisian border on Tuesday, trying to get out of Libya as the situation there worsened, humanitarian agencies and media reports said.
Tunisian border guards fired into the air to try to control a throng of people clamoring to get out. Some people were throwing their bags over a wall between the border posts and trying to climb over, prompting border guards first to hit them with sticks and then to fire warning shots, Reuters reported.
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"I was in shock when I first arrived. There are thousands and thousands of people waiting to cross," Katherine Roux, communications officer for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, said from the border crossing at Ras Jdir. "The biggest thing that hits me is just the desperation of people when you see migrants come in, I mean you know how far they have walked. They're carrying baggage, blankets. It’s really devastating."
The U.N. refugee agency, UNHCR, said 14,000 people crossed the border Monday, the highest number in one day since the protests began in mid-February. Another 10,000-15,000 were expected to leave Tuesday.
"There is a lot of tension right at the border gates," Roux said. "You can tell they have been fighting to get over."
A Reuters reporter saw at least three people being taken out of the crowd by Red Crescent medical teams after fainting in the crush of bodies.
Tunisian authorities said 70,000-75,000 people have arrived from Libya since Feb. 20, the U.N. said in a statement. Meanwhile, Egyptian authorities say 69,000 people have crossed over from Libya since Feb. 19, The Associated Press reported.
"We can see acres of people waiting to cross the border. Many have been waiting for three to four days in the freezing cold, with no shelter or food," Ayman Gharaibeh, head of the UNHCR emergency response team at the border, said in the statement. "Usually the first three days of the crisis are the worst. This seems to be getting worse by the day."
Sumaya Beltifa, a spokeswoman for the International Committee of the Red Cross, said those waiting in the no-man's land between the two borders were in a "quite dramatic" situation. On Tuesday, she said she saw some people unsuccessfully trying to climb over a wall to enter Tunisia, while people on the other side threw bottles of water to those waiting.
The refugees were mainly Egyptians, but there were also Tunisians, Chinese, Bangladeshis, Nigerians and South Koreans. Most of them were young, healthy men, the aid groups said.
"This is the only reason why the situation has not degenerated into a huge crisis so far," Gharaibeh said.
At Ras Jdir, if any refugees needed medical attention, it was "mostly due to shock," Roux said. "There hasn't been anyone that's arrived with gunshot wounds or anything extremely serious."
A camp has been set up about 3 miles away housing at least 5,000 others. Another several thousand people were in the area of the crossing on the Tunisian side, Roux said.
"The most pressing need ... is just the evacuation of the migrants that are here," she said.
One Egyptian at the camp told Reuters: "When are we going to be taken out of here? We cannot accept this." He added: "Give me a camel. I will take a camel. I just want to go home."
Beltifa, of the Red Cross, noted there have been unconfirmed reports that Egyptians who had crossed the border said they had been picked up by pro-Gadhafi forces and brought to the Tunisian border rather than the one with Egypt.
"Many Egyptians, they are frustrated and they have great anger against their country because Egypt didn't really succeed to evacuate them," she said.
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UNHCR said it aimed to provide shelter to about 12,000 people by Tuesday night and was expecting more tents and supplies to arrive Thursday.
It was "becoming critically important that onwards transport becomes quickly available to avoid a humanitarian crisis," UNHCR spokeswoman Melissa Fleming told journalists in Geneva.
Other aid officials say humanitarian aid workers are being blocked from reaching western Libya and patients reportedly are being executed in hospitals, AP reported.
Reporter Miranda Leitsinger of msnbc.com, The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.