Discontent in the Middle East

Foreign workers flee fighting in Libya

Scott Tong Mar 1, 2011
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Discontent in the Middle East

Foreign workers flee fighting in Libya

Scott Tong Mar 1, 2011
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TEXT OF STORY

Kai Ryssdal: The worse the violence gets in Libya’s cities, the more people just want to get out. Relief workers say the border crossing from Libya into Tunisia is overwhelmed — a thousand people an hour are trying to leave. Many of the 140,000 or so who have been able to cross are migrant workers all trying to do the same thing: Get home.

From Washington, Marketplace’s Scott Tong reports.


Scott Tong: U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warned today that Libya is at risk of falling into civil war. Many of those fleeing say it’s just too dangerous to stay. They cross over into Tunisia and Egypt, often carrying nothing more than a couple bags tossed in a wheelbarrow, say relief workers.

Abeer Etera of the U.N. World Food Program says some foreign workers complain they were robbed on the way out.

Abeer Etera: The overwhelming majority are Egyptians. These are young, male single workers in the construction business. They specifically mentioned that some nationalities, especially the Egyptians and Tunisians, were targeted.

But tens of thousands of foreign workers are still stuck in Libya. Some had their passports taken by employers and don’t have their papers; others can’t afford transportation.

Hicham Hassan is in Bengazi, Libya, with the International Committee of the Red Cross.

Hicham Hassan: They rely on charity, basically from businessmen, from the local population, who have actually been very generous with them. They give them food and water. They try to give them shelter as well.

Try. One relief group found 600 Vietnamese migrants sleeping outside, in 40-degree weather. Economist Paul Sullivan at Georgetown University says migrant went to Libya because of no prospects back home.

Paul Sullivan: Well they’re pretty much from everywhere. People working in the oil fields could be from as far away as the Philippines, or Sri Lanka. Or Pakistan.

He worries about their home countries’ ability to absorb all these jobless workers, especially fragile Egypt. And the exodus is just beginning; only 10 percent of foreign workers have gotten out.

In Washington, I’m Scott Tong for Marketplace.

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