Displaced Eritreans to be relocated in EU countries

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Returning from a visit to Egypt, Home Affairs Commissioner Cecilia Malmström said yesterday (24 March) that EU countries would be asked to help relocate on their territories a few thousand Eritreans stranded on Libya's borders with Tunisia and Egypt.

Speaking to the Brussels press, Malmström said that the EU had to help Egypt and Tunisia deal with the problem of displaced third-country nationals who have fled Libya and were now stuck in limbo at the border with Egypt and Tunisia.

Asked by EURACTIV to give details, she said those affected were sub-Saharan nationals, mainly Eritreans but also numerous Sudanese, who now had nowhere to go as Egypt and Tunisia would not let them in and their countries would not take them back.

According to the commissioner, there are 250-270 people at the Egyptian border and a few thousand at the frontier with Tunisia.

The European Commission is organising a meeting today (25 March) with EU member states, the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) and other partners to discuss the relocation of these people. The Commission is also working with the UNHCR to establish a list of third-country nationals.

'We will not relocate refugees in the Berlaymont': Malmström

"Without the member states this relocation is not going to work. We will not relocate them in the Berlaymont," Malmström said.

She added that there was no chance of the Commission imposing any quotas or obliging member states to take in the displaced persons. "We are totally dependent on their willingness," she admitted.

Some countries have already declared their willingness to take in such displaced people, Malmström said but she refrained from naming them. No final decision will be taken tomorrow: instead an initial exploratory discussion is scheduled, she explained.

The commissioner said that countries willing to relocate displaced persons could benefit from European funding, which have already been used to relocate 290 immigrants from Malta in some member countries.

According to Sasha Chanoff, executive director of Mapendo International, a humanitarian agency, approximately 10,000 refugees from Darfur, Somalia, Eritrea, Iraq and other war-torn countries were residing in Tripoli and other cities in Libya before the civil war broke out.

Many have them have fled as they had been targeted by both pro- and anti-Gaddafi supporters accusing them of being mercenaries.

Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Response Commissioner Kristalina Georgieva recently said that the EU would provide help on Egyptian and Tunisian soil to Libyans fleeing any massacre, but no large-scale evacuation of Benghazi was foreseen.

The commissioner explained that since 15 February, when mass protests began in Libya, 280,000 people had left the country, mostly across the Tunisian (140,000 people) or Egyptian (120,000) borders, with the rest fleeing to Algeria (11,000) and Niger (3,500).

The vast majority of those leaving Libya were reported to be third-country nationals working in Libya.

The commissioner made clear that a lot was at stake for the authorities of Egypt and Tunisia.

She explained that this was not a trivial question, because at the Tunisian border, where people in the beginning were very supportive of those fleeing Libya, anxiety was building up and concerns were growing that the camps of displaced persons would be made permanent.

On the Egyptian side, it had been even more difficult to accommodate properly refugees from sub-Saharan Africa, as well as Iraqis or Palestinians, she further explained.

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