Refugees are desperately trying to escape Libya as fighting intensifies between rebels and forces loyal to Moammar Gadhafi, who has ruled the North African country for 41 years. The crisis is expected to continue — and broaden — as long as Gadhafi refuses to surrender power. Here, a guide to the humanitarian crisis developing on Libya's borders:
How many refugees have fled Libya?
The tally grows by the day. When this week began, authorities in neighboring Egypt said 69,000 people had already crossed over from Libya since Feb. 19. Nearly 100,000 refugees are believed to have fled into Tunisia, including roughly 30,000 just on Monday and Tuesday. One United Nations humanitarian official said "acres of people, as far as you can see," are still waiting to enter Tunisia.
What conditions do the refugees face?
Thousands end up stranded on one side of the border or the other, without food or sanitation. "The biggest thing that hits me is just the desperation of people when you see migrants come in," says Katherine Roux, communications officer for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, as quoted by MSNBC. "I mean you know how far they have walked. They're carrying baggage, blankets. It's really devastating."
Is the mass exodus expected to get worse?
Much worse. In Libya's climate of fear and uncertainty, "we're talking about potentially 200,000 to 300,000 people over a year who could try to cross the Mediterranean towards Europe," says European Affairs Minister Laurent Wauquiez. And that could be a conservative estimate. Gadhafi had closed off possible migration routes of millions of sub-Saharan migrants, as part of a deal with Italy, but that agreement has been suspended since the revolts broke out.
What is the West doing to help?
The European Union decided to triple the amount it is spending on Libyan refugees, to $14 million. The U.S. is sending two ships with 2,000 Marines closer to Libya to handle emergency evacuations and deliver humanitarian supplies. The British government has sent two planes to rescue thousands of Egyptians stranded on the Libyan side of the border. And Italy has sent aid workers to Tunisia, partly in the hopes of limiting the number of people who will try to reach Italy's southern shores as the crisis continues.