March 11, 2011 / 4:05 PM / 9 years ago

African migrants fleeing Libya seek asylum elsewhere

* Some African migrants want to go to Europe, not home

* Migrants refusing to go home complicate repatriation move

* UNHCR says considering re-settling migrants

By Mariam Karouny

RAS JDIR CAMP, Tunisia, March 11 (Reuters) - Hundreds of African migrants who fled the violence in Libya to a refugee camp in Tunisia are refusing to return to their home countries where they say they would face poverty or violence.

Tens of thousands of migrant workers have been fleeing Libya since fighting between Muammar Gaddafi’s forces and rebels bent on ending his 41-year long rule broke out last month.

More than 120,000 migrants have crossed into Tunisia since Feb. 21, including some 20,000 Tunisians who quickly rejoined their families.

Around 75,000 migrants, mostly Egyptians, were repatriated as several countries chartered ships and flights to send them home. But 15,000-20,000 people are still living in tents at Ras Jdir, the main border crossing into Tunisia from Tripoli.

While a majority of them cannot wait to go back home, hundreds of people — mostly from Nigeria, Somalia and other African countries — are hoping to be able to file for asylum and go to Europe.

“It is dangerous to go back. In my country what will be waiting for me is hunger and instability. My country is not safe and I do not want to go back,” Khadija Sheikh Ali, 24, a Somali woman who arrived from Tripoli on Friday, told Reuters.

“Here I have food and clean water and it is safe, why should I go back? We call on the world to help us. I do not care where I go next as long as they do not send me back to Somalia, I have nothing in Somalia,” she said.

Aid workers said migrants were repatriated on a voluntary basis and that if a large number of people began refusing to go back to their countries that would complicate their efforts to deal with the humanitarian emergency at the border.

“If many migrants start thinking in this way then we will have a problem. Most of these people have lost their money and their jobs and they think asylum in Europe would solve their problems,” said an aid worker at the camp, who spoke on condition of anonymity.


Firas Kayal of the United Nations refugee agency UNHCR said the agency was considering alternative options.

“There are two categories ... those who are already recognised as refugees and are in the process of being resettled ... (and) some people of specific countries who cannot go back because of widespread violence there,” he said.

“UNHCR is studying their cases individually and we are considering a variety of solutions including discussing possible re-settlement,” he said.

Michael Anthony, a 31-year old Nigerian, said he would smuggle himself back to Libya rather than return to his country.

“I have nothing in Nigeria, no work and no life. My mother and brother live there and they live in very miserable situation,” he said crying.

“I am very scared, very scared and I do not want them to take me back. Do you see this tent here? It is better than our house in Nigeria.”

Another migrant from Somalia, which has been plagued by violence and anarchy since the early 1990s, said she lost all her life savings in Tripoli where she had feared being killed.

“I stayed for seven days with my brother inside the house and no food. I was so scared, I heard lots of shooting and I feared for my life. Now I am safe here. Unless they send me to a safe place I will not move from here,” said Khatera Azan, 28.

Some 90 Nigerians flew back to their country on Thursday. But around 20 stayed behind, saying that going back was not an option. (Editing by Giles Elgood)

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