Media warn foreigners stranded in Libya face disaster

Thousands of men wait to enter Tunisia from Libya on March 1, 2011 Reports say Bangladesh is the country with the largest number of citizens unable to leave Libya

The continuing instability in Libya is threatening to create a humanitarian disaster on the country's borders. Tens of thousands of people are trying to cross into neighbouring Tunis and Egypt.

Many foreigners remain stranded in the capital Tripoli and other Libyan cities finding it difficult to travel because of the volatile security situation. Recent reports have focused on the plight of Egyptians and the inability of the authorities in Cairo to organize their swift evacuation back home.

However, media attention is now shifting towards the fate of Bangladeshis who appear to be the largest group of foreigners caught up in the Libyan crisis.

Thousands continue to arrive

Tunisian TV reported that thousands of people continued to arrive at the Libyan-Tunisian border, fleeing the "worsening security situation in Libya". The channel said this had forced international volunteers and representatives of local and regional bodies to call for a global response to help cope with the crisis before it got out of hand. Some 10,000 to 15,000 people are expected to arrive from Libya, the TV said, quoting the United Nations Higher Commission for Refugees - at a time when up to 75,000 had already crossed into Tunis. The channel's correspondent at the border said people from different nationalities were waiting to be taken back home - among them were citizens of Egypt, India, Pakistan, Italy and China. The reporter criticised international efforts, which he said were slow in providing logistical support to the Tunisian authorities.

Egyptian TV changes tone

Egyptian media offered detailed coverage of the fate of people trying to flee Libya. Although not openly critical of the authorities in Cairo, state TV started to openly ask officials what the government was doing to ease the plight of the tens of thousands Egyptians stuck in the neighbouring country.

Egypt's Channel One interviewed Muhammad Abd-al-Hakam, assistant to the foreign minister for consular affairs and Egyptians abroad. The interviewing technique marked a departure from the approach used in the past, where the presenter would have asked a question about whether a report was true or not and the expected answer would have been a denial by the Egyptian official. In this case, the presenter first stated that Egyptians were suffering persecution in Libya, and then asked the official what the ministry was doing about it. In another report, Channel One said that envoys of embassies of other countries in Libya were already at the border to issue travel papers for their citizens who had no documents.

Opposition daily Al-Wafd used a harsher tone, describing the situation as "a humanitarian catastrophe on the Libyan-Tunisian border" adding that 20,000 Egyptians remained stranded there.

Bangladeshis face disastrous situation

Although understandably preoccupied with the destiny of Egyptians, Cairo's Channel One TV also reported that Bangladesh was the country with the largest number of citizens unable to leave Libya. The Bangladeshi press has sounded alarm bells, warning that members of the huge Bangladeshi community were under threat of violence and hunger not only at Libya's borders, but also in other parts of the Arab state.

"Around 3,000 Bangladeshi nationals remain stranded on Libya's border with Tunisia, with another 3,500 stranded on Libya's borders with Egypt and Niger," wrote Bangladeshi newspaper New Age, quoting the foreign ministry in Dhaka. The daily added that Bangladeshis in Libyan cities, including Tripoli, were worried about their safety. Mohammad Sadeque, a Bangladeshi chartered accountant who recently returned home from Libya, told New Age that "Most of the people do not know where they would go and what they would eat in the coming days". Bangladesh nationals are facing trouble crossing into Tunisia as there is no representative of their government there, according to an official of the International Committee of the Red Cross, the paper said.

Another Bangladeshi newspaper, The Daily Star, revealed that the authorities in Dhaka had no plan for a full-scale evacuation of their citizens from Libya. The paper quoted the Foreign Secretary Mohamed Mijarul Quayes as saying that the government had appealed to companies in Libya and international organizations to help Bangladeshis move to safer places. "The Bangladeshis trapped in the Libyan capital could face a disastrous situation, as rebels and pro-Gaddafi forces fight around Tripoli," The Daily Star warned. It said that around 15,000 Bangladeshi workers lived in the Libyan capital, with another 45,000 scattered around the North African country.

BBC Monitoring selects and translates news from radio, television, press, news agencies and the internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages. It is based in Caversham, UK, and has several bureaux abroad.

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