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A man carries his suitcase in a border area where migrant workers are living in squalid conditions after crossing into Tunisia from Libya in Ras Jdir, Tunisia. - 


Kai Ryssdal: Best guesses are something more than 150,000 people have left Libya since the violence started two weeks ago. Most of them are migrant workers from other countries in North Africa. Tens of thousands of people are still stranded in camps on the Libyan border. President Obama said today that U.S. transport planes would be on their way tomorrow to help get them home.

Several European countries, including Britain and France, are already doing that. Marketplace's Stephen Beard reports from the European Desk in London it's not all out of the goodness of their hearts.

Stephen Beard: Britain got most of its own nationals away from Libya last week. Now the U.K. wants to help other less well-off countries evacuate their citizens, as Prime Minister David Cameron told Parliament.

David Cameron: Today we're launching a U.K. operation to airlift several thousand people back to Egypt, from the Libyan-Tunisian border. I think it's vital to do this. These people should not be kept in transit camps, if it's possible, to take them back to their homes.

The French and the Spanish are helping with the effort. The Europeans want trying to prevent thousands of refugees heading their way, something Spain certainly wants to avoid, says Gayle Allard of the IE business School in Madrid.

Gayle Allard: There's great concern about an influx of people that the economy's simply not prepared to handle with the unemployment rates where they are at 20.3 percent on the last survey.

The Italians are worried to. They fear an influx of 300,000 North Africans. Phillip White is with the Centre for European Reform.

Phillip White: There is a growing concern among a lot of western European countries about the number of people coming to Europe -- particularly given the economic backdrop which is, of course, pretty awful.

Spain has called for a big international program of financial support for Arab countries to persuade their citizens to stay put. But with the governments of the U.S. and Europe strapped for cash, that call seems likely to fall on deaf ears.

In London, I'm Stephen Beard for Marketplace.