x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Refugees from Libya heading home

Hundreds of refugees from Libya are leaving Tunisia for home, many of them to Bangladesh.

Mohamed Fares of the International Organization for Migration helps Bangladeshi refugees fleeing from Libya.
Mohamed Fares of the International Organization for Migration helps Bangladeshi refugees fleeing from Libya.

DJERBA, TUNISIA // The final 10,000 refugees from Libya who remain in Tunisia - most of whom are Bangladeshi workers - are slowly making their way home.

Hundreds have begun to leave on the approximately five flights per day arranged by the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), which is leading the effort to send Bangladeshis home, said Mohamed Fares, an IOM volunteer.

The planes depart from Djerba, a Tunisian town a few hours' drive from the border, to Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh.

However, not all the refugees are happy to be heading home.

Mehdi Hassan, 23, had been hoping to be evacuated to Europe.

"Bangladesh has many problems. It is a poor country," he said, standing in line at the Djerba airport with a rainbow scarf tied around his head.

Mohammed Mominullah, 44, said he is glad to escape the fighting in Libya but hopes some day to return.

He and other Bangladeshi workers left Libya about two weeks ago on a bus provided by their Chinese employer. Other staff had already gone home, he said.

He left with few belongings and two months' salary unpaid, he said. On the way to Tunisia, Libyan security forces took their mobile phones, and at the border Libyan authorities confiscated their passports, he said.

He stayed at the refugee camp for about 10 days before getting a spot on an IOM flight.

"We were running away with our lives," he said at the Djerba airport, waiting to collect the photocopy of his passport which now serves as his official papers. He wore a leather jacket and dusty shoes.

"But if things become OK I will come back," he said.

Some workers from countries facing war, such as Somalia and Iraq, remain in limbo in Tunisia, said Mr Fares.

The UN high commissioner for refugees, Antonio Guterres, appealed to developed countries to find a solution for such refugees. He spoke yesterday at the end of a two-day visit to Tunisia with William Swing, the director general of IOM.

chuang@thenational.ae