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Flight from Libya: No Water, But Lots of Bread

Aharon Granevich-Granot, Zarzis, Tunisia

As hundreds of thousands of Libyan refugees have already fled the mercenary troops of Muammar Gaddafi, the shaky new regimes of Egypt and Tunisia — Libya’s eastern and western neighbors — are facing a refugee crisis they are patently unequipped to handle alone. We entered the thick of this logistical nightmare, meeting refugees in their new “homes” — the square meter of their mattress.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The town of Ras Ajdir on the Tunisian-Libyan border has turned into a tent city for over 150,000 fleeing Libyan refugees — Tunisian citizens and thousands of other foreign workers waiting to be repatriated, as well as Libyans escaping the violence and retribution from forces loyal to Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi. Another 120,000 have fled to Libya’s eastern border with Egypt.

While Tunisia’s new transitional government, unstable as it is, struggles to cope with the masses of refugees fleeing the violence in Libya, a huge humanitarian crisis is brewing, overflowing to the cities of the interior.

We met up with refugees in Zarzis, a Tunisian port city not far from the Libyan border. There refugees have set up camps, waiting to somehow get back to the countries they had previously left for a better life in Libya. There are refugees from Bangladesh, the Philippines, Nigeria, Mali, Ghana, Liberia, and an assortment of other countries — plus thousands of expatriate Tunisians and Libyan civilians. Tens of thousands of Egyptians who showed up at Libya’s western border with Tunisia have already been airlifted back to Cairo. And Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has agreed to allow 300 former Palestinians back into Judea and Samaria.

In Zarzis, we were able to peek at the revolution through the back door.

Our group consisted of Eli and Yinon, our two photographers, myself, and David Emanuel Uzan, a political science student whose fluent French and Arabic made him both translator and political interpreter. These days, when entry by Israelis is virtually impossible, we came supplied with a special permit arranged by Rene Trabelsi, a French-Tunisian businessman who took us under his wing and enabled us to travel freely and interview the locals and transients.


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