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Emergency support for migrants on the Tunisia-Libya border

By Najwa Mekki

RAS JDIR, Tunisia, 9 March 2011 – Desperate to earn money for her family, Joy left her four-year-old son in her mother’s care in Nigeria two years ago and moved to Libya to work as a cleaner. Now, seven and a half months pregnant, she is sitting in a camp at the Tunisia-Libya border, waiting for a plane to take her home.

VIDEO: UNICEF's Priyanka Pruthi reports on the growing number of migrants pouring into Tunisia to escape the violence in Libya.  Watch in RealPlayer


Joy arrived to the camp in Ras Jdir last Sunday, along with her husband, sister and six-month-old niece. She is one of more than 110,000 people – mostly male migrant workers returning to their countries of origin – who have poured into Tunisia since unrest in Libya began two weeks ago. 

As the daily influx has fallen from an average of 10,000 to under 2,000, the profile of migrants has changed. After the first wave of Tunisians, came Egyptians, followed by Bangladeshis and others from sub-Saharan Africa.

More families have been arriving in the last couple of days, especially from Somalia, but also from Eritrea and Sudan. There are currently more than 160 families in the camp and 70 children, mostly babies under the age of two.

An estimated 15 per cent of Libya’s foreign population has now left the country. Thousands more could flee if violence continues to escalate.

Relief and repatriation

To make sure all the migrants receive the care and psycho-social support they need, UNICEF has deployed a team of psychologists.

© UNICEF/NYHQ2011-0358/Ramoneda
Six-month-old Mumtaz smiles from her mother’s arms in a transit camp near Tunisia's border with Libya as her mother speaks with a UNICEF psychologist. Mumtaz’s family is Somali.

UNICEF has also set up latrines to help improve the hygiene conditions in the camp and is distributing water, food and clothes for children.

Bangladeshis represent the majority at the camp, with nearly 14,000 still there. Efforts to repatriate them are under way, led by the International Organization of Migration. There is a critical shortage of long-haul flights to take those stranded home, particularly to Bangladesh. An estimated 40 to 50 flights are needed to repatriate all the migrants.

With limited information of the exact situation in Libya, UNICEF has voiced concern over the impact of the worsening violence on women and children.

In order to step up its response, UNICEF is appealing for $8.1 million to respond to the threat of a larger-scale humanitarian crisis over the next three months.



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