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As Death Toll Grows, 100,000 Flee Libyan Violence

StoryFebruary 28, 2011
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Sarah Leah Whitson

executive director of the Middle East and North Africa Division at Human Rights Watch. She has just returned from the Libya-Tunisia border where thousands of Libyans are fleeing the unrest.

Estimates of the death toll in Libya have reached at least 2,000, and more than 100,000 people are believed to have fled the country into neighboring Egypt and Tunisia. We speak to Sarah Leah Whitson of Human Rights Watch, who has just returned from the Libya-Tunisia border. [includes rush transcript]

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: In our last minute now, we turn to Sarah Leah Whitson, executive director of the Middle East and North Africa Division at Human Rights Watch, just returned from the Libya-Tunisia border, where thousands of people are fleeing the unrest in Libya. In this last minute, Sarah, if you could tell us what you are witnessing.

SARAH LEAH WHITSON: Sure. The border has been flooded with foreign migrant workers leaving Libya, overwhelmingly Tunisian and Egyptian workers. There have been about 40,000 who have left the western border of Libya, and the Egyptians, who are about 20,000 of those, have been, by and large, stranded because the Egyptian government has not been able to prepare the evacuation of their nationals from Tunisia. And they’ve been there for several days, in tents, in very cold, rainy weather. And they’re increasingly frustrated and upset at being stuck after a very stressful journey through Libya.

AMY GOODMAN: The numbers, Sarah Leah Whitson, that Human Rights Watch now believes, the number of people who have been killed and injured in Libya?

SARAH LEAH WHITSON: We don’t have a formally updated figure since the 300 we gave several days ago, and that’s primarily because our ability to contact hospitals in parts of the country not under the control of protesters dramatically shrank in the middle of this week when the government stopped the use of telephones and internet access. But I would comfortably, confidently say that it is at least double our initial estimate of 300 by now.

AMY GOODMAN: Sarah Leah Whitson, thank you for joining us, executive director of the Middle East and North Africa Division at Human Rights Watch, just returned from the Libya-Tunisia border.

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