The Old Testament, read by Jews, Christians and Muslims alike, tells of the Exodus of Jewish refugees from the oppressive rule of a pharoah. Today, the saga is being repeated, and Muammar Gadhafi is the tyrant killing the innocent to hold power and people in the thousands flee for safety.
Tunisian and UN aid officials say they face a “migration tsunami” as more than 10,000 people streamed through the tiny border crossing of Ras Jedir.
A 45-year-old Egyptian laborer, said: “They were arresting our friends – Tunisians and Egyptians – people they thought had helped the revolution. “I saw six Egyptians killed by police. Just shot in the street like dogs. “After that we knew that Tripoli was not safe for us.”
Others had similar stories, explaining that their phone batteries or sim cards had been seized to prevent them taking photographs or telling their stories to the outside world.
Italian officials warn of a mass exodus to Europe. Chaos in Libya has led to immediate concern that hundreds of thousands of immigrants could head for Europe. Italy’s interior minister, ahead of an EU summit in Brussels, called on Thursday for European help in dealing with a looming “catastrophic humanitarian emergency.”
Other Italian officials warned earlier last week of a wave of refugees fleeing violence that Muammar Gadhafi’s regime has reportedly visited on its own people. But if Libya collapses into anarchy, some observers have said, it could become an immigration route for far more people from sub-Saharan Africa.
A ‘Biblical Exodus’
“We know what to expect when the Libyan national system falls,” said Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini on Wednesday, “… a wave of 200,000 to 300,000 immigrants.”
“These are estimates, and on the low side,” he added. “It is a Biblical exodus. It’s a problem that no Italian should underestimate.”
“They rounded people up, handed them guns and then took photographs and said they had tried to attack Libyan soldiers,” said another refugee who would only give his name as Zaim. “We thought Gadhafi was a good man because he let us come to his country and have jobs. Now he is just a liar. “They said we were the ones selling coffee with drugs to make people fight.”
Many cautioned against international intervention to remove Gadhafi, asking that the safety of thousands more migrant workers be taken into consideration.
“The Libyan people don’t need the help of Britain, America, Europe and the others,” said Zaim Saeede, who had arrived yesterday morning from Tripoli in a convoy of cars. “They can finish this revolution by themselves.” All day throngs of people arrived through the crossing in cars and on foot from the western parts of Libya were Gadhafi’s rule remains strong.
Families were handed cakes, fruit and sandwiches by aid agencies as they stepped on to Tunisian soil. Mothers held babies sitting on suitcases or sacks of clothes while groups of men squatted smoking cigarettes.
Most were migrant Egyptian workers trying to work out how to get home. A few cars carrying Libyans also made it through.
Elizabeth Eyster, country director of the UNHCR, the United Nations’ refugee agency, said more and more migrant workers were leaving as Gadhafi’s regime appeared more unstable and construction sites, factories and oil plants closed. She said yesterday’s estimates suggested 10,000 people had passed through the border.
“More and more people are coming through every day. It started with a trickle on Sunday last week but now we are facing a migration tsunami,” she added. “None of us were expecting such large numbers.”