Tunisian authorities have announced a set of new measures to ease the evacuation of Egyptians stuck at the border between Tunisia and Libya, after a visit by Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry.
Thousands of Egyptians are stuck at the border area. Tunisian authorities decided that Egyptians stuck at the border area are exempt from paying fees to cross into Tunisia through the Ras Jdeir border crossing, which lies at the Tunisia-Libya border. Tunisia also announced that Egyptians returning home from Libya can now use the Gabès airport and the Zarzis sea port.
On Thursday, an emergency airlift had been set up between the Djerba International Airport in Tunisia and the Cairo International Airport to fly Egyptians home.
Shoukry was set to return to Cairo on Tuesday afternoon, on an EgyptAir flight carrying around 300 evacuated Egyptians. He agreed with Tunisian officials that on Tuesday and Wednesday, nine flights would take off from the Djerba and Gabès airports, evacuating around 2,300 people. The country’s national airline, EgyptAir is providing these flights free of charge.
During his visit, Shoukry spoke with Tunisian prime minister and an array of Tunisian ministers before visiting the Ras Jdeir border crossing, accompanied by the Tunisian Transportation Minister Shehab Bin Ahmed. He met with some of the Egyptians who crossed to the Tunisian side and were on their way to Cairo.
The foreign minister expressed appreciation for all of the assistance provided by the Tunisian side, a foreign ministry statement said. He also thanked officials at both sides of the border crossing for the care provided to Egyptians in the area.
The Tunisian Red Crescent has distributed aid to the Egyptians at the border and another aid shipment was provided by the Egyptian army, which sent an aid shipment worth 12 tons of food and medical supplies.
More than 1.6 million Egyptians live in Libya. Libyan Ambassador to Egypt Mohammed Fayez Jibril was cited by state-run MENA as saying that Egyptians in Libya have not been placed under pressure and the media is promoting misinformation on the situation in Libya, denying mass displacement of Egyptians from Libya. He added that the chaos that had happened at the border area was caused by a lack of proper coordination between the authorities of Egypt, Libya and Tunisia.
Shoukry called on Egyptians residing in neighbouring Libya to move away from areas with clashes to safer places inside Libya and advised them to avoid going to the Tunisian border, given that the roads leading to it are not secured and in order to not build up on the number of people already at the border area. He added that those who wish to leave Libya should return through the Salloum border crossing, which lies at the Egyptian-Libyan border, if they are close to it.
Heavy fighting has dominated Tripoli and Benghazi for the past three weeks. A deadly standoff between rival militias at the Tripoli Airport led to its closure since 13 July and prompted the evacuation of the United Nation’s staff from the country shortly afterwards.
Violence has repeatedly surged and died down in Libya after the overthrow of former president Muammar Gaddafi, who was killed by militants in October 2011. However, the violence drastically escalated in 2014 when retired General Khalifa Haftar launched a campaign in May to root out “terrorism” in the coastal city of Benghazi.
The authorities have denounced his actions, labelling him an outlaw. Jibril said Libya is suffering from the heavy legacy of the Gaddafi regime as well as the proliferation of arms, which prevent the political process from running smoothly.
Violence in Libya has been a major concern for its neighbours. On 14 July, Libya’s neighbours decided to form a security committee and a political committee to offer the troubled country suggestions to end its crisis.