20110303 refugees flee libya into tunisia 35
People who fled from Libya walk throught the Echoucha refugee camp, close to the Ras Jedir border post, near the Tunisian city of Ben Guerdane. - 


BOB MOON: Oil price declined today -- by as much as $3 a barrel -- after a report that the Arab League was studying a plan to end the violence in Libya. That's the lowest they've been in a week. In the meantime, European countries have been evacuating most of their own citizens from Libya in the last week. Now, Britain and France are flying Egyptians and other foreign workers back to their home countries, too. The move underscores Europe's worries of a refugee crisis that's developing in Africa.

From the European Desk, Marketplace's Stephen Beard joins us now. Good morning Stephen.


MOON: How are the Brits and the French getting people out of Libya?

BEARD: Well, by flying. I mean they're concerned that the U.N. says something like 180,000 people now have fled Libya, many of them Egyptian migrant workers involved in the Libyan oil industry. They're now stranded in dire conditions in transit camps on the Libyan-Tunisian border. So the British Prime Minister David Cameron told parliament that he's sending some chartered aircraft from Britain to Tunisia to fly up to 8,000 Egyptians back home to Cairo.

DAVID CAMERON: It's vital to do this. These people shouldn't be kept in transit camps, if it's possible to take them back to their home and I'm glad that Britain can play such an important part in doing that.

And the French government is planning to repatriate a further 5,000 of these migrant workers.

MOON: Now is this a purely humanitarian mission, or is there more to it than that?

BEARD: No it's not entirely humanitarian. There's real alarm in Europe about the possibility of a major influx of refugees from North Africa into Europe. The Italian foreign minister said we could be talking about hundreds of thousands of people seeking refuge here at a time when unemployment's very high, economic recovery is still fragile, so there is certainly more than a dash of self interest in this European move.

MOON: Marketplace's Stephen Beard in London, thanks.