8:00am

Sat March 5, 2011
World

The Scene At The Libya-Tunisia Border

Transcript

SCOTT SIMON, host:

Now to the other side of Libya. Much less is known about the west, both in the capital Tripoli, and other cities and towns. There have been reports of some cities switching sides between pro-Gadhafi forces and the rebels. But the Gadhafi government seems in firm control of Libyas western border with Tunisia, and Gadhafis been restricting access, including to journalists.

NPR correspondent David Greene, along with producer Jim Wildman, approached the Libyan border just a few hours ago.

(Soundbite of birds chirping)

DAVID GREENE: This is one very locked-down border. We're just crossed out of Tunisia to talk to the Libyan officials and the place is amazingly quiet, in part because were told that the Libyans are not even Tunisians go by without getting some sort of visa and putting some money down, and usually it's easy for two Tunisians to go back and forth across into Libya. We're also told that some international aid workers, some doctors were refused at this border, so as far as we can tell Libya has completely shut off this part of the country to people wanting to come in and see what's going on.

Salaam. Salaam. Is English okay or?

Unidentified Man: (Foreign language spoken)

GREENE: Okay. Okay.

Unidentified Man: (Foreign language spoken)

GREENE: That was intimidating hand wave, go away.

(Soundbite of dogs barking)

GREENE: Well, we're just refused at the Libyan border. The guards were, they were I guess polite at first, but when we tried to ask too many questions we got the stiff shoo-away with a gun sort of motion towards us. And now it's back to Tunisia. We're walking across this sort of dusty road with just us and some stray dogs barking and off we go back to Tunisia. Well try again.

SIMON: David Greene joins us now from that border crossing halfway between Dhiba, Tunisia and Nalout, Libya.

David, what do you hear from people who are coming out of Libya?

GREENE: Well, I'll tell you, Scott, not many people are coming out of Libya. Not many people are going in either. And this border crossing, it's usually pretty active, people say. There's a lot of commerce going on. Tunisians will go across into Libya. Theyll fill up their car with very cheap gas. Theyll drive back over to Tunisia and theyll empty their car and theyll sell the gas at much higher prices. But that commerce has been shut down. They're not many people really go in either direction.

We did speak to a group of Bangladeshi migrant workers, about 20 of them who came across a little while ago. They had been working in the city of Ghadames in Western Libya and they said up until a few days ago they were anti-Gadhafi protests each night and there was stone throwing, fires being set by pro- and anti-Gadhafi supporters kind of fighting in the streets. That's calm down now. It's a much more tense scene. Police have control of the city they said. These Bangladeshis just wanted to get out. They said it has not been a friendly place for outsiders. A worker from Mali was shot in the streets over the last few days, and these guys said that they have very little access to food. People in shops are saying if you're not Libyan we are not going to feed you. Go back to Bangladesh.

SIMON: How they get back to Bangladesh?

GREENE: Thats a good question. I mean, over the period of this week, in the beginning, the refugee camps, especially up at a northern border crossing a few hours north of here, were just jam packed. I mean, as many as eighty, ninety thousand people have crossed, refugees from Libya into Tunisia.

The UN says that things are starting to loosen up. Theyre getting people out. The United States military has offered its assistance to fly people out. But Bangladeshis remain the biggest problem. I mean, there are thousands of them still in Libya. The Bangladesh government has told them they might have to stay, which might be really rough if they can't get food. And we saw what looked almost like a sad march out of one refugee camp yesterday. Just thousands of Bangladeshis being moved from one refugee camp to another. No buses, no cars. I mean they were just walking kilometers with their suitcases on their heads under a really glaring sun.

SIMON: And what's the conversation, the feel like in those refugee camps? Talk about events or politics or people just want something to eat and get a good night's sleep?

GREENE: Its been a lot of politics, Scott. I mean people are very willing to talk about the events in this part of the world. You know, they seem to be getting the food that they need, they are not sure of their future. But we talked to, you know, Egyptians, Tunisians and others and, you know, even people from Bangladesh, from Ghana - I mean it's, people are paying attention to what's going on. Certainly, their lives have been thrown into upheaval by what's happening in Libya. But most people we ask that they say it's worth it.

SIMON: And when they say it's worth it, do they mean the salaries they earn?

GREENE: No. I think they like what's going on. I mean, they've been paying attention to the news, especially the Egyptians who we spoke to. A lot of Egyptian workers who were working inside Libya and have been now forced to leave, I mean they've lost jobs in theory in Libya.

We spoke to one gentleman who worked at a bakery outside Tripoli and his parents in Egypt were saying get home, it's too dangerous there. And he landed at the refugee camp yesterday with just nothing. I mean, no money. And we said, you know, do you wish you could be back in Libya? And he was like no, I support what those people are doing and if that sort of, you know, has driven me out and made my life difficult right now, you know, I'll take that if, you know, to support their cause.

SIMON: NPR's David Greene speaking with us from a border crossing between Tunisia and Libya.

Thanks so much.

GREENE: Thank you, Scott.

SIMON: And you can go to our website, npr.org for the latest news from the region, as well as an interactive guide to the protests and uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.

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