Thousands of Egyptians who have been seeking to flee strife-torn Libya for days were being airlifted home Sunday after Tunisia’s initial refusal to let them in sparked clashes at the border.
Buses picked up dozens of them on Saturday afternoon at the Ras Jedir border crossing to take them to Jerba airport, 100 kilometres (60 miles) north, where flights were to evacuate them to Egypt, AFP journalists said.
Another 100 were expecting a coach to collect them during the day on Sunday to transfer them to the Tunisian airport.
Egypt’s civil aviation minister, Hossam Kamal, said 1,796 people had been taken to Jerba and another 1,355 were scheduled to be transferred there on Sunday, when five flights to Egypt were planned.
As of Saturday evening, about 6,000 people were awaiting evacuation and neither Libya, Egypt nor Tunisia could say on Sunday how many were still awaiting transport.
“The humanitarian situation is critical, as some people haven’t eaten for five or six days,” Red Cross official Mongi Slim told AFP on the phone.
“The authorities have allowed us to provide them with food.”
Tunisia had refused to let in people who were neither Libyan nor Tunisian unless they could prove they would be immediately repatriated and were only transiting the country.
The government said it could not cope with a large number of Arab or Asian workers fleeing Libya as it did in 2011 during the civil war which led to the overthrow of Moamer Kadhafi.
The Ras Jedir crossing was shut on Friday and part of Saturday after violent clashes between Libyan border guards and hundreds of Egyptians who had tried to storm the border post to cross into Tunisia.
On Sunday, the crossing was operating normally and traffic was much less than all last week when thousands of people were seeking to leave Libya as the latest conflict worsened.
Since mid-July, Libya has seen deadly clashes been rival militias in Tripoli and the eastern city of Benghazi.
Tripoli airport has been closed since gunmen, mostly Islamists, attacked it on July 13 in a bid to wrest control from the Zintan brigade of former rebels who have held it since the 2011 revolt.