accessibility & help

Humanitarian needs increase in Libyan civil war

10 March 2011

A Tunisian man and child cross the border into Tunisia from Libya©Reuters/ AlertnetAs the threat of all-out civil war looms in Libya, there is an urgent need for more relief, particularly to meet health and sanitation needs for people fleeing the country.

So far, more than 224,000 people have fled Libya. Many are expats who have managed to return to their countries but the International Organisation of Migration estimates that 22,500 people remain stranded at the Libyan borders, with over 16,000 being Bangladeshi. The women and children  that have arrived are being given separate care to the rest of the crowds.

The International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement is providing assistance on health, water and sanitation and re-establishing contact between families. In Tunisia, the Movement is setting up a transitional camp for 10,000 people and has already established a warehouse from which it is distributing emergency relief items.

Casualties increase

The conflict is intensifying in western Libya, where Misrata, 210 km east of Tripoli, has been the scene of heavy fighting and air strikes in recent days. Local doctors have seen a sharp increase in the number of casualties arriving at hospitals.

The president of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), Jakob Kellenberger, said: “Our surgical team in Ajdabiya, in the east of the country, helped operate on some of the 55 wounded people who were brought to the city's hospital this week alone. This is but one sign that the conflict is intensifying. Our concern is that civilians are bearing the brunt of the violence. We believe that many people in western Libya have been even more severely affected by the fighting than those in the east.

"It's unacceptable that, 24 days after the fighting started, a major part of the country remains effectively cut off from humanitarian aid. Our greatest challenge right now is to reach the areas hardest hit by the fighting in order to help treat the war-wounded and follow up on people who have gone missing, as we've been doing in the east of the country since 27 February."

Tunisian border

Barry Armstrong, British Red Cross disaster response manager, said: “Although population flows to Tunisia have slowed since 2 March, an average of 2,000 people per day continue to cross the border.

“However, we’re also concerned because it’s not clear if people are being held back deliberately or are afraid to make the journey. It may be that this is just a lull before another surge of migrants and refugees start crossing the borders. In Tunisia, the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement is building a base camp that will enable us to dramatically scale up operations should the needs arise.”

The British Red Cross currently has two logistics delegates and a hygiene promoter supporting the relief operation in Tunisia and another logistics delegate will be deployed on 11 March to support the ICRC operation in Egypt.

Urgent funding needs

In Tunisia, the military and UN High Commission for Refugees have organised a camp around nine kilometres from the border, with a current population of 16,000, although about 1,000 Bangladeshis are expected to leave each day over the coming week. The Tunisian Red Crescent is playing a vital role supporting this camp by serving meals and setting up tents and toilets.

Barry said: “The Tunisian population’s response to the situation continues to be extremely generous. Local communities are providing blankets, bread, and other food items on a daily basis.”

Thanks to the generosity of donors, the British Red Cross has so far raised more than £114,000 for its Libya & Region Appeal. However, the humanitarian situation remains critical and more money is needed to continue providing vital support to thousands of people in a desperate situation.

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