Refugees Stuck in Limbo at Desolate Egypt-Libya Border

The International Organization for Migration, with assistance from the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), has administered one of the largest humanitarian evacuations in history here, To date, nearly 300,000 thousand people have fled Libya through Salloum, more than 70,000 of which are third country nationals, according to IOM.

"It's not perfect for sure," said Mohamed Anwar, a 29-year-old doctor employed by IOM and working in conjunction with the Egyptian Ministry of Health. "But at least all the basis stuff is present."

The fate of the hundreds of families still stranded at Salloum, many of whom originally fled to Libya from crisis in their own home countries, remains undetermined. UNHCR and potential recipient countries coordinate to find them a new home. But there is red tape, and the political restrictions can be difficult to navigate.

"Its not easy to know who is that [admissible] person. What is the fear of their return? What happened to them?" said UNHCR officer Salah Tukka, who had been stationed at Salloum for the past three weeks. "This can take time. In the end, all the problems will be solved."

In the meantime, both Libyan unrest and the subsequent displacement crisis show few signs of abating. May 20 will mark 60 days since the onset of NATO's military involvement.

On Thursday British PM David Cameron welcomed Libya's rebels to open a formal diplomatic office in London, the first time a foreign country has issued such an invitation.

Libya's rebels are persisting while Qaddafi defiantly taunts the NATO-led military effort.

"I tell the coward crusaders -- I live in a place that you cannot reach," he said in an audio recording broadcast on state TV on Friday. "I live in the hearts of millions."

With the conflict poised to escalate, the humanitarian situation at Salloum and other Libyan exit points remains unclear. Conflict could always return east and Libya's migrant communities may come under greater discrimination. Under either scenario, the humanitarian crisis at Salloum would almost certainly worsen.

"That's something that no one can know," said the International Organization for Migration's Anwar. "It's totally impossible."

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Brian Dabbs

Brian is a journalist based in Kenya. He previously wrote and edited for the English edition of the Egyptian independent newspaper Al-Masry Al-Youm.

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