PARIS/LONDON (Reuters) - France and Britain said on Wednesday they would evacuate thousands of Egyptian workers stranded on Tunisia’s border after fleeing violence in Libya.
The two nations said they were responding to a call from the U.N. refugee agency UNHCR and others for assistance to prevent a humanitarian crisis developing as Tunisia struggles to cope with the sudden inflow of people.
“It is vital to do this, these people should not be kept in transit camps if it is possible to take them back home,” British Prime Minister David Cameron said.
British officials said 85,000 mainly Egyptian migrant workers were massed across the Tunisian border, with a further 40,000 waiting on the Libyan side, following the two-week-old uprising against Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi.
Britain will charter three commercial passenger aircraft to fly 6,000 people back to Egypt over the next three days. The first two planes will leave Britain on Wednesday for Djerba in Tunisia.
France will send military transport planes and a naval landing ship to evacuate 5,000 refugees within the next week, its foreign ministry said.
French Armed Forces spokesman Colonel Thierry Burkhard said a naval amphibious landing vessel should arrive in the Mediterranean within two days, as part of the operation.
Separately, two planes chartered to take medical supplies to the central hospital in the rebel-held eastern Libyan city of Benghazi had arrived in Cairo late on Tuesday and should reach their destination shortly, the French foreign ministry added.
France also was seeking to provide tents and emergency supplies for displaced people inside Libya.
Cameron said Britain had flown tents for 1,500 people and blankets for 36,000 people to the Tunisian border on Monday.
He confirmed that Britain was still considering plans for a military no-fly zone over Libya if Gadaffi “unleashes more things on his own people.”
Reporting by Elizabeth Pineau and Laure Bretton in Paris and Tim Castle in London; Writing by Tim Castle and Daniel Flynn; Editing by Michael Roddy