News reports change daily but the UN figures from today show nearly 200,000 refugees on the Libya-Egypt border alone; another 100,000 or so are across the eastern border to Tunisia.
The stories are heart wrenching; of individuals under siege, afraid to stay and afraid to leave. No government or institution is helping them (with the exception of the UNHCR and they are stretched beyond capacity.) These refugees are virtually ignored by all nations of the world as they try to rescue their respective nationals through air and sea.
A friend in Italy Seleba Welday, who had been in Libya as a refugee himself not too long ago, sent an urgent message on facebook about a group of young Eritrean men who are desperate to escape and in fear for their lives. The best he could do was give them the UNHCR hotline (UNHCR has established a hotline for refugees and asylum-seekers in Libya: the number is here for those in need +218 214777503). See also this report from Human Rights Concern Eritrea
For those interested in reading more in this topic, Farai Sevenzo attempts to put a historic perspective on Libya's ties with the rest of Africa for a commentary on BBC.
Then lastly and probably most important, what about African Union? How is it possible that the biggest organization representing the continent should remain virtually silent on the issue of protection of Africans in times of crisis ? BBC asked this question “Why has African response to the Libyan crisis been so muted?”
"Colonel Ghaddafi plays a prominent role in the African Union. Some say he bankrolls the organisation and has been known to pay the dues for many smaller, poorer countries. As a result, African presidents have been accused of staying silent on the situation in his country. "
I commend the United Nations in its effort to deal with the massive refugees who are crossing borders on a daily basis. The UNHCR in particular continues to be the voice of the hundreds of thousands who are fleeing across borders. The agency has limited resources (and even more limited mandate) and cannot be the only response to the crisis of displacement in the region. African governments, and especially the A.U needs to step up to this task.