Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 22 November 2014

UK launches Libya refugee airlift

David Cameron said the UK will help airlift thousands of refugees left stranded on the Libyan border
David Cameron said the UK will help airlift thousands of refugees left stranded on the Libyan border

Britain has launched an emergency airlift to help rescue thousands of refugees left stranded by the fighting in Libya amid fears of a looming humanitarian crisis.

The Government said it was sending three commercially-chartered airliners to pick up refugees packed into vast camps across the border in Tunisia without food or shelter.

The move follows an appeal by United Nations (UN) Secretary General Ban Ki-moon for a mass international evacuation operation. France and Spain also announced that they were sending planes to help with the airlift.

Meanwhile, David Cameron faced the first public criticism from within his own ranks over his handling of the crisis sparked by Colonel Muammar Gaddafi's attempts to crush the popular uprising against his regime.

HMS York, which has been delivering medical supplies to the rebel-held city of Benghazi, picked up 11 British nationals when it docked in the port, the Ministry of Defence said.

Announcing the airlift in the House of Commons, the Prime Minister said: "These people shouldn't be kept in transit camps if it is possible to take them back to their home. We will go on doing everything we can to ease the problems at the border and make sure this emergency doesn't turn into a crisis."

The first British flights - a Thomas Cook Airbus A321 and a Titan Airways Boeing 757-200 - arrived at Djerba airport in Tunisia on Wednesday, where they picked up a total of 406 adults and seven children. They will be joined by a second 757-200 chartered in Italy.

Over the coming days it is expected that the aircraft will take up to 6,000 Egyptian migrant workers - who make up a high proportion of the estimated 85,000 refugees who have flooded into Tunisia - back to Cairo.

Senior Conservative MP Bernard Jenkin - a former shadow defence secretary - questioned Mr Cameron's decision to publicly raise the prospect of imposing a military no-fly zone only to receive a lukewarm response from key allies such as the United States and France.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai has warned against military intervention in Libya, telling Channel 4 News: "I believe military intervention will cause more suffering for the international community and the people of Libya. A military intervention will raise the nationalistic fervour of the population there, with no clear end in sight, and as a consequence of that I would not advise it."

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