GENEVA: About 15,000 Egyptians who fled the Libyan crisis are still stranded in Tunisia amid a relentless exodus of foreigners by land, the International Organization for Migration said Saturday.
More than 7,800 people of more than 20 different nationalities crossed at the Ras Adjir border post in Tunisia alone on Friday, the IOM said in a statement, about 400 more than the previous day.
“An estimated 15,000 Egyptians are now stranded at this border area awaiting evacuation help,” it added.
Egyptians were the largest national group crossing from embattled western Libya into Tunisia.
The IOM said it was preparing to bring the Egyptians to coastal areas of Tunisia to ferry them home by sea or to third countries by air.
According to border officials, the total numbers of people that have crossed the Libyan-Egyptian as of today has reached 53,000 and the vast majority of crossings were of Egyptian migrants, IOM said in a press statement.
An IOM emergency team is already operational at the Libyan-Egyptian border near Salloum providing registration, food, water and blankets to a total of 5,000 to 7,000 Asian and African migrants stranded at the border.
Most of the migrants are adult males, employed as guest workers in Libya, with Bangladeshis comprising the largest group (3,500) followed by 500 Sudanese.
While nationals of wealthier countries have been evacuated by their governments by air or sea, those of Egypt, Bangladesh, Moldova, Montenegro, Nepal, the Philipinnes, Sri Lanka and Vietnam have asked the IOM for help.
The body has appealed for $11 million to assist an initial 10,000 stranded migrants, although the agency estimates that 50,000 people may eventually need help getting home.
About 1,000 Niger asylum seekers trying to reach Europe and “let go” from a migrant detention centre in southwestern Libya had meanwhile returned to their homeland after traveling hundreds of kilometers across the desert on trucks, according to the Geneva-based agency.
There were also signs that Libyans living abroad were trying to head in the other direction.
Some exiles among about 200 to 300 who rallied in the western Swiss city of Geneva Saturday vowed to go back to join the uprising against strongman Moammar Qaddafi.
Twenty-one-year-old Swiss student Amana said her Libyan father had returned to the “freed” northeastern port of Benghazi less than a week ago.
“They’re free, they’re happy there,” she said.
“Of course I’m worried about him, and for the future. It’s free now, but we wonder for how long,” she added, pointing to reports of hundreds of deaths in the capital Tripoli, Qaddafi’s stronghold.