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In Egypt, Libyan Refugees Find Tough Conditions

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In Egypt, Libyan Refugees Find Tough Conditions


In Egypt, Libyan Refugees Find Tough Conditions

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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And we're going to check in now on one of the other ongoing dramas in the Arab world: Libya.

The refugee crisis brought on by the Libyan uprising has not abated. Hundreds of thousands of migrant workers have fled the fighting, and some are still stuck in limbo.

NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro reports from the border between Libya and Egypt.

LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO: So I'm standing on the Egyptian side of the Libya-Egypt border, and buildings that used to be customs halls are now makeshift accommodation centers. And where I am now is where the children and women sleep, and there are scores of young African children playing, women sitting in small groups surrounded by huge bundles of bags. This is where people have been, some of them for months now.

(Soundbite of children playing)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: A group of Eritreans stand around a cooking pot making the traditional dish, zigni, a tomato-based stew. One of the men has been able to barter for a chicken to add meat for the meal.

Nahom Ligalem has been living here in this border no man's land for two months now. He's been granted refugee status by the U.N.

Mr. NAHOM LIGALEM (Refugee): I have problems in my country. I can't go to Eritrea. They have a big problem in Eritrea.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: But so far no third country will take him.

Mr. LIGALEM: Many people, they are confused here now. If you reject them, where do they go?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Nayana Bose says there are 600 asylum seekers and thousands more third-country nationals who are living at the border.

Ms. NAYANA BOSE (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees): As you can see around you, it's pretty crowded. The problem is, we haven't been able to move people. There are still things to be finalized.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Such as a deal with the Egyptian government. It has come under harsh criticism for the way it's dealing with the refugee crisis. A recent report by Refugees International slammed the new military rulers. It said international organizations are trying to set up better housing, but Egypt has been reluctant to allow more permanent structures to be built for fear that it might encourage refugees to stay longer.

While women and children are allowed to sleep in the departure and arrival halls, men are forced to stay outside in makeshift tents, exposed to the wind and rain.

(Soundbite of chatter)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: The International Committee of the Red Cross allows those arriving at the border to make two-minute phone calls to their families. For many it's the first time their loved ones hear that they are alive.

(Soundbite of chatter)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Most of the foreign nationals arriving these days are coming in from Misrata. They've been living in dire conditions for months in a city under siege.

Suleman Manman is from Niger

Mr. SULEMAN MANMAN: (Foreign language spoken)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: The conditions in Misrata were not good, he says. He says he left all of his belongings there and fled with only the clothes on his back. He was terrified of all the shooting, he says. Rockets and tank fire every day, he says.

He is calling his father for the first time since the uprising began to let him know he's alive.

Standing next to him is Alamin, and he's from Bangladesh. Several of his friends were killed in Misrata when Gadhafi forces fired rockets at the port where the refugees were holed up. And now, he says, things are safer now but still difficult.

ALAMIN: (Unintelligible) the condition is not good, but here is not toilet, not enough water, and condition is very serious. But immediately we want to go our country, okay?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: But many Bangladeshis are stuck. Egypt won't allow them to cross over unless a plane is sent to repatriate them, and the Bangladeshi government so far has not provided one.

Alamin says he's about to call his mother to let her know he's okay, but he says he won't be able to tell her when he'll be home.

Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, NPR News.

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