March 4th, 2011
04:30 PM ET

Tunisia steps up evacuations of people fleeing Libya

Ivan Watson

Djerba, Tunisia (CNN) - The evacuation of the tens of thousands of refugees who have streamed across the Libyan border to Tunisia has stepped up dramatically.

Tunisian authorities have established an air bridge from a provincial airport on the island of Djerba that is now moving out thousands of migrants a day.

"We are expecting 10,000 passengers to leave every day with 66 movements, that's to say 66 planes," said Djerba airport director Zouhaier Badreddine told CNN.

"The majority go to Egypt. But there are also Chinese, Pakistanis, Filipinos, Bangladeshi, Vietnamese, Turks in the beginning but now they all seem to have left. There are many nationalities and many destinations."

As of Thursday, more than 172,000 people had left Libya, most of them migrant workers returning home, the U.N.'s emergency relief coordinator, Valerie Amos, said in a statement issued Friday.

Among them were women and children, she said.

The United Nations' figure was slightly less than that of the International Organization for Migration, which has been working with the U.N. refugee agency and estimated that 200,000 people had fled Libya.

Some of those crossing the border told CNN that government forces in Tripoli had confiscated their mobile phones and cameras.

A majority of those fleeing are Egyptians who had been working in Libya. But the foreign workers also include citizens of other nations including Bangladesh, Thailand, Vietnam, Sudan, Ghana and Mali.

A U.S. Agency for International Development official said approximately 90,000 people were in transit camps over the Libyan border in Tunisia. Almost half of them are Egyptian, said the official, who did not want to be identified because he was not authorized to speak on the record.

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