UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie meets Somali refugees today at Choucha Camp, located near the Tunisian-Libyan border.
Almost 440,000 people have escaped the violence in Libya since mid-February, finding shelter in surrounding countries such as Tunisia, Egypt, Niger, Algeria, Chad and Sudan. Tunisia, alone, has received about 217,000 of the outflow from Libya and has mobilized an outstanding relief operation.
“The outpouring of generosity from the Tunisian people says so much for the future of this country,” said Jolie. “It is a sign of the openness sweeping across the region.”
At the end of February, transit facilities were erected a few kilometres inside Tunisia to provide temporary shelter for those crossing the border, mostly migrant workers. At the same time, UNHCR and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) began helping migrants home with a massive humanitarian air evacuation.
Today, more than 70,000 people have been repatriated safely with help from UNHCR and IOM, but more continue to arrive. Some 11,000 third country nationals are still in transit.
“The international community has done well to reinforce Tunisia’s remarkable relief effort,” said Jolie. “But with 2,000 people still crossing each day, we cannot let the funding dry up and need to sustain the momentum.”
During the visit, an important contribution is being made by the Jolie-Pitt Foundation to help sustain the humanitarian evacuations being carried out. The Foundation covered the costs for a flight of 177 people to return to their countries of origin and purchased an ambulance to help support Tunisian efforts on the border to assist the injured arriving from Libya.
“We would encourage others, individuals and governments, to continue to support and assist with the needs on the ground,” said Jolie, an acclaimed and popular actress.
“While migrants make up the majority of these new arrivals, there are also some 2,500 people from war-torn countries who are unable to return home and thus require international protection. “They’re waiting here with little hope, unable to return home and unsure of what’s to come. This constant cycle of displacement must finally come to an end,” the Goodwill Ambassador said.
In conversations on Tuesday with people who had recently left Libya, Jolie was told of heavy fighting inside the country. She listened to harrowing stories of checkpoints, harassment and assaults. She appealed for measures that would allow the UN and non-governmental organizations to access Libya, and to distribute urgent assistance, including food and medical supplies.
Jolie also heard dramatic accounts of eastern and sub-Saharan Africans being deliberately targeted inside Libya. Many remain in hiding in desperate conditions, unable to move for fear of violence. Jolie called for a humanitarian corridor to facilitate the safe access of these populations to points of refuge.
Without this corridor, thousands of Africans are escaping Libya by sea, relying on unseaworthy vessels organized by smugglers. In recent weeks, there have been several landings on the small Italian island of Lampedusa as well as interceptions off the coast of Tunisia. There are also reports of some people not surviving the perilous journey across the Mediterranean.
Photo: UNHCR/J. Tanner