Thursday, 24 February 2011

Qadhafi is losing control of Libya's borders

While the media speculation on how long Colonel Mu'ammar Qadhafi will stay in power continues, one thing seems clear: he is fast losing control of his country's borders.

Thousands of foreign nationals have been fleeing the country by both its eastern land border into Egypt and its western land border into Tunisia in recent days as Tripoli's airport struggles to cope with the number of people wanting to leave.

Reports from the border with Egypt have suggested that opposition forces have gained control of the border. According to the BBC there are no government officials at the border and formalities are at a minimum. A new flag is flying and a picture of Col Qadhafi has been cross out.

There are a series of checkpoints as you drive into Libya, which are armed by army and police officers, but they have all defected to the opposition. The BBC reports that locals are even acting as traffic police.

It is estimated that 1.5 million Egyptians were in Libya. An Egyptian security official told the Associated Press that about 5,000 Egyptians have returned home and about 10,000 more are waiting to cross the Libya-Egypt border.

A Korean news source has reported the story of nine Koreans working in Libya who drove for 67 hours through the desert on mostly unpaved roads to escape the country to Egypt. Their office in Tubruk had been looted over the weekend and a number of public buildings in the city were set on fire, they said.

Reports so far indicate that Qadhafi's forces have fared better on the Western border, and the plain green Libyan flag of his regime is still flying. Huge bottlenecks are reported at border crossings, although large numbers are getting through.

The International Organisation for Migration said on Wednesday 23rd February that thousands of foreign nationals were leaving by the western land border as well.

"Although a significant number are from Egypt, Tunisia, Sudan, Chad, Niger, West Africa and the Horn of Africa, there are also migrants from other parts of the world including Asia," it said. "Among them are Filipinos, Sri Lankans, Bangladeshis, Pakistanis and Chinese."

It also mentioned Lebanese, Turkish, Syrian and German nationals have left through the land border. IOM spokesman Jean-Philippe Chauzy said the arrivals began on late Tuesday.

Fleeing migrants said they had been stopped at checkpoints by pro-government soldiers who confiscated mobile phones, passports and other belongings, Chauzy said.

Many foreign ministries, including that of the UK, have started or will start evacuating their citizens from Libya by air and sea.

Sources: BBC, Reuters, Associated Press, JoongAng Daily

For more news and expert analysis about Libya, please see Libya Focus and Libya Politics & Security.

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