Libya’s refugee crisis

As a measure of how bad violence has gotten inside Libya, look to the borders, where tens of thousands have already fled — and a further 300,000 might be on their way. "It is a biblical exodus," Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini told Reuters today. Speaking on BBC News World Service this morning, a representative ...

By , International Crisis Group’s senior analyst for Colombia.
LIONEL BONAVENTURE/AFP/Getty Images.
LIONEL BONAVENTURE/AFP/Getty Images.
LIONEL BONAVENTURE/AFP/Getty Images.

As a measure of how bad violence has gotten inside Libya, look to the borders, where tens of thousands have already fled -- and a further 300,000 might be on their way. "It is a biblical exodus," Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini told Reuters today. Speaking on BBC News World Service this morning, a representative from the International Red Cross said that his organization was preparing capacity along the border with Tunisia for as many as 10,000 new refugee arrivals today.

As a measure of how bad violence has gotten inside Libya, look to the borders, where tens of thousands have already fled — and a further 300,000 might be on their way. "It is a biblical exodus," Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini told Reuters today. Speaking on BBC News World Service this morning, a representative from the International Red Cross said that his organization was preparing capacity along the border with Tunisia for as many as 10,000 new refugee arrivals today.

This isn’t just Libyan nationals; the country is home to 1.5 million immigrants, the International Organization for Migration estimates, many from sub-Saharan Africa. Libya even played host to some 8,000 refugees from places such as Somalia, Eritrea, and Chad. Now, the U.N. refugee agency, UNHCR, says it has "no access" to that population. And those populations may indeed be in danger; tweets this morning from Libya indicate that African immigrants in Libya are afraid to leave their homes, for fear of being mistaken for mercenaries.

Aside from the immediate-term humanitarian challenge this presents, the refugee situation matters because it is a sign of structural upheaval within a society. It takes innumerable courage to go to the streets and protest against one’s government wherever repression is strong. But it takes equally incredible levels of fear — and distrust of the future — to pick up everything and leave.

It takes years, not weeks or months, to resolve refugee crises. So if there was any doubt of the magnitude of events unfolding, this should give us a final clue: No matter what happens to Qaddafi, there will be no quick fixes for the country he has ruled.

Elizabeth Dickinson is International Crisis Group’s senior analyst for Colombia.

Tag: Africa

More from Foreign Policy

Keri Russell as Kate Wyler walks by a State Department Seal from a scene in The Diplomat, a new Netflix show about the foreign service.
Keri Russell as Kate Wyler walks by a State Department Seal from a scene in The Diplomat, a new Netflix show about the foreign service.

At Long Last, the Foreign Service Gets the Netflix Treatment

Keri Russell gets Drexel furniture but no Senate confirmation hearing.

Chinese President Xi Jinping and French President Emmanuel Macron speak in the garden of the governor of Guangdong's residence in Guangzhou, China, on April 7.
Chinese President Xi Jinping and French President Emmanuel Macron speak in the garden of the governor of Guangdong's residence in Guangzhou, China, on April 7.

How Macron Is Blocking EU Strategy on Russia and China

As a strategic consensus emerges in Europe, France is in the way.

Chinese President Jiang Zemin greets U.S. President George W. Bush prior to a meeting of APEC leaders in 2001.
Chinese President Jiang Zemin greets U.S. President George W. Bush prior to a meeting of APEC leaders in 2001.

What the Bush-Obama China Memos Reveal

Newly declassified documents contain important lessons for U.S. China policy.

A girl stands atop a destroyed Russian tank.
A girl stands atop a destroyed Russian tank.

Russia’s Boom Business Goes Bust

Moscow’s arms exports have fallen to levels not seen since the Soviet Union’s collapse.