Aid groups warn of a growing humanitarian crisis as violence in Libya continues [EPA]

The governments of France, Spain and Britain have said they would evacuate thousands of workers stranded on the Tunisian border after fleeing the violence in Libya.

Emergency airlifts along Libya's borders were launched on Wednesday, as more than 140,000 refugees pour into Tunisia and Egypt from Libya and thousands more are arriving by the day.

UN experts warned that fast action was needed to protect and feed them before the exodus turned into a full-blown humanitarian crisis.

Many of the foreigners are from countries that could not afford evacuations, or sub-Saharan African workers whose lives are in danger because they are being mistaken for mercenaries hired by Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi.

France and Britain also said they were responding to a call from the UN refugee agency UNHCR and organisations for assistance to prevent a humanitarian crisis from developing.

"It is vital to do this, these people should not be kept in transit camps if it is possible to take them back home," David Cameron, the British Prime Minister said on Wednesday.

UK government officials added that 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 the town Djerba in Tunisia.

Military transport planes

France will send military transport planes and a naval landing ship to evacuate 5,000 refugees within the next week, its foreign ministry said.

More than 75,000 people have crossed into Tunisia since Feb. 19, British officials say, the vast majority of them Egyptians.

"Most have been traveling for three or four days. They are walking and have had nothing to eat for up to 48 hours," said World Food Programme spokeswoman Abeer Etefa.

"The majority of the people coming across the border are young Tunisian and Egyptian men who were working in Libya. Tens of thousands are coming every day."

Colonel Thierry Burkhard, spokesman for the French armed forces, 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 eastern Libyan city of Benghazi had arrived in Cairo late on Tuesday and should reach their destination shortly, the French foreign ministry said.

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."

Source: Agencies