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The World

March 14, 2011

Migrant workers fleeing Libya vow not to return



Many Bangladeshis at the camp said they incurred debt to go to Libya, paying on average $5,000 to a local broker for the plane ticket and visa. Now, some said, they don't know how to pay it back.

After the outbreak of fighting, China, Turkey, Egypt and others evacuated their workers from Libya by air and sea. Workers without outside help, including Bangladeshis and many of the Africans, had to organize their own treks to safety in neighboring countries, mainly Tunisia and Egypt.

More than 260,000 people crossed into Tunisia and Egypt since the start of the fighting, including nearly 100,000 non-Egyptian foreign workers, according to the International Organization for Migration, which is helping to evacuate stranded laborers. Up to 6,000 people continue leave Libya for Tunisia and Egypt every day, the group said.

Many of those who reach Tunisia — the most hazardous route since it leads through Gadhafi-controlled territory — find temporary refuge at the 20,000-capacity Shousha Camp, run by the Tunisian army and international aid groups.

On Saturday, as a sand storm whipped across the camp, thousands of migrants walked around aimlessly in the garbage-strewn tent city, killing time as aid agencies tried to arrange flights home. Many had already been there for several days. Long lines formed for food, water and free three-minute phone calls.

Occasionally, one group would organize a protest to try to speed up the pace of evacuations. On Saturday, several dozen ran up and down the main road next to the camp, shouting "Mali, Mali," the name of their home country, and waving sticks in the air. Tunisian soldiers watched from the sidelines and the group quickly dispersed.

Many of the workers said they would never have left home had they known what awaited them. Virtually all said they were robbed by pro-Gadhafi forces en route to the border. Most said they were stiffed at times by their Libyan bosses, and some of the Africans said they had been beaten or detained.

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