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Migrant workers fleeing Libya appeal for help

Thousands of Bangladeshi 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.
/ Source: Reuters

Thousands of Bangladeshi 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.

In 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."

Relatives of the Bangladeshis have also staged protests near the airport in Dhaka, carrying placards and banners asking the Bangladesh government to bring them back. More than 50,000 Bangladeshi workers are employed in Libya.

West African migrant workers also in the crowd at the border 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 shoveled away the broken bags and discarded clothing and other rubbish left by a tide of Egyptian refugees who flowed over the border Tuesday.

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.


There are problems on the Tunisian side of the border too, because thousands of migrant workers who made it through the crossing are stranded there with no money to pay for their journey home.

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.

The refugees are all men. Some Egyptians started the day protesting on the Tunisian side of the border. They shouted: "Here we are, we are the Egyptians!"

Others formed long but orderly lines for food handouts and for toilets. They also queued to buy SIM cards to replace those taken from their mobile telephones at Libyan checkpoints.

Two Tunisians working from a booth sold mobile phone cards as fast as they could install them to men anxious to call home. "Libyan money welcome," said one vendor.

One young Egyptian summed up the boiling frustration of the stranded workers. "When we leave here we are not going to our homes," said Mohammed.

"All these men that you see here ... 2 million people are going to go to Tahrir Square and demonstrate all over again," he said, referring to the focus for protests in Cairo which overthrew Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

"We are going to change the government again and we will start a new revolution because we are really tired here and no one has asked about us," he said.

"The (Egyptian) government are sleeping, the people are sleeping, the army are sleeping and we say: 'Thank you Egypt, thanks for nothing'."

Tunisian army colonel Mohamed Essoussi and UNHCR team leader Ayman Gharaibeh said more planes and ships were needed to repatriate more than 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.