News / Middle East

Relief Agencies Scramble to Help Libyans, Foreign Nationals in Tripoli

Rebel fighters secure a largely abandoned residential area during fighting in Abu Slim in Tripoli August 25, 2011
Rebel fighters secure a largely abandoned residential area during fighting in Abu Slim in Tripoli August 25, 2011
David Arnold

As rebels occupied the compound of Moammar Gadhafi, international refugee and relief workers began efforts in Libya’s besieged capital to evacuate thousands of migrant workers by sea and to address the health and security needs of thousands more people in Tripoli.

Relief agencies say the next few days will be crucial to the safety of thousands of Libyans, migrant workers and political refugees in and around Tripoli and more than 50,000 Libyans elsewhere in the country uprooted by the violence of Libya’s revolution, according to relief workers.

“This is a country that has not witnessed conflict like this before,” said Robin Waudo, a spokesman for the International Committee of the Red Cross. ICRC, which has been working in several cities in western Libya, has been the only international relief agency working in Tripoli since April.  The next to join was Medecins Sans Frontieres, which recently brought in surgical teams to serve wounded combatants and civilians in the city.

The ICRC team has a staff of 52 working in Tripoli and as far away as Sabha, 800 kilometers to the south.  However, most of the Tripoli staff has not been able to leave their homes in recent days due to the heavy fighting.

“The urgent needs are to care for the wounded,” Waudo said.  He listed other problems to be addressed in the coming days: disrupted water and sanitation systems, a severe shortage of medicines and vaccines, unexploded ordnance littering neighborhoods, and a large number of Libyans and third-country nationals detained by both sides of the conflict without charges filed or their families notified.  The immediate need is to provide medicines, he said.

“We could see the impact of the conflict and of the sanctions that made it difficult for Libya to import drugs,” Waudo said.  When the conflict began, the nation’s medical specialists, made up almost entirely of foreigners, left the country.  Companies that imported 95 percent of Libya’s medicines also shut down.  He said the greatest need so far is for more measles vaccines and diabetes medications.

Appeal for safe evacuation of Tripoli

A chartered vessel with a 300-person capacity has successfully docked in Tripoli after several days of anxious negotiations to evacuate third-country nationals from within and around the city.  Some have boarded the ship, chartered by the International Organization for Migration, and others are being rounded up at several embassies, including the Philippine embassy.  IOM hopes to have at least 200 refugees on board by dusk, when the ship leaves.

Migrant refugees atop a truck in the Libyan city of Misrata. IOM says it has evacuated some 8,500 migrants from Misrata so far, the majority during the height of the violence there.
Migrant refugees atop a truck in the Libyan city of Misrata. IOM says it has evacuated some 8,500 migrants from Misrata so far, the majority during the height of the violence there.

"Snipers and checkpoints around the city have proven to be the biggest challenge," an IOM official said as the first refugees boarded the ship. The organization plans to send additional ships to evacuate thousands more who remain in the city and its suburbs as rebel forces continue to encounter resistance from Gadhafi loyalists.

IOM officials are extremely concerned about security for the refugees, said Jemini Pandya, a spokesperson for the IOM in Geneva, Switzerland.

Last week, officials told IOM the port was safe. “We had been given all assurances that were needed for us to be able to carry out this operation when we dispatched the boat,” Pandya said. But control of the docks changed hands over the weekend as rebel forces took over from retreating Gadhafi supporters.

“We were informed that these security assurances were no longer valid in the sense that they could not be upheld for sure,” Pandya said.

The migrant worker challenge

According to the IOM spokesperson, migrants are currently scattered all over Tripoli and within the city’s embassy compounds. However, many of them, such as the sub-Saharan Africans, tend to live on the periphery of the city and don’t have access neither to the port nor to their embassies.

“Our worry is that given the security situation and the snipers and the checkpoints, migrant workers will not be able to leave wherever they are and make their way to the port. Which is why we are calling on all sides in this conflict to assure that the safety of migrants is assured… This is a crisis that doesn’t involve them, it is not a conflict that involves them. They are innocent parties to all of this and on a humanitarian level they should be allowed to leave the country safely,” said Pandya.

In a recent evacuation from Misrata, an unknown number of migrants who were camped out on the docks died in the shelling of the port.

Pandya says that IOM is appealing to both sides to guarantee the migrants’ safety so that what happened in Misrata will not be repeated.

Libyans returning home

As migrant workers escape the shooting in the capital, many Libyans who were internally displaced will want to return from the homes of family and friends in other parts of Libya and neighboring countries.

Refugees International
estimates that 850,000 have fled Libya since February 11. Of that number, approximately 200,000 were Libyans. Matt Pennington of Refugees International says about 75 percent of them have returned, but another 50,000 are still displaced and will need protection and assistance.

Larger numbers of the internally displaced include Libyans and migrant workers, Pennington said.  The numbers are changing daily. The UN has reported that there have been over 150,000 people displaced in the Nafusa Mountain Range area, but there are about 50,000 displaced in the Tripoli area, mostly from Misrata, and 50,000 to 60,000 in opposition-controlled areas in the east, said Pennington.

When the protests against the Gadhafi regime began on February 11, there were an estimated 300,000 non-Libyans living in the country. The largest numbers were Tunisians and Egyptians, most of whom  have already returned home.

Nowhere to go

However, many of the third-country nationals who remain have nowhere else to go. “These are people with legitimate exit concerns,” Pennington said. “Of the 1600 or so refugees who are on the Tunisian border, for example, you have over 400 Somalis, over 600 Eritreans, a number of Sudanese and Ethiopians and actually a fairly large number of Iraqis.”

These refugees remain vulnerable to abuse by both sides in the conflict. “This is the place where we feel the U.S. government and these key donor governments of the U.K. and the French can put pressure on the National Transitional Council and the commanders on the ground to ensure that their forces on the ground protect these minorities,” said Pennington.

Meanwhile, tens of thousands of Libyans and their capital city remain at risk and it will be up to the international community to supply much of the assistance and expertise needed to offer them a more secure environment.

“Most of these folks are not staying in camps or in large settlements,” Pennington said.  “They’re staying with host families, so really the focus needs for the international community, for the U.N., for the aid agencies needs to be on supporting these immediately vulnerable people and their host families. T he pressure on these families is immense when you have a family of eight and suddenly there are two families staying with them.”

Initial international relief efforts have encountered serious challenges in an uncertain political transition from 42 years under Moammar Gadhafi to rebel forces who seek to lead a nation suffering from immediate health and security challenges.

Follow our Middle East reports on Twitter
and discuss them on our Facebook page.

You May Like

Russia Names US NGO 'Undesirable'

Prosecutors determine activities of National Endowment for Democracy to be 'undesirable,' paving the way for it to be outlawed on Russian territory More

Erdogan Vows 'Anti-Terror' Campaign in Syria, Iraq

Erdogan expressed confidence the 'necessary steps' will be taken by NATO leaders, who will meet Tuesday at Turkey's request More

North Korea: 'No Interest at All' in Nuke Deal

Senior US envoy Sydney Seiler visits Beijing Tuesday for talks on how to revive the stalled six-party nuclear talks with North Korea More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
US Calls Fight Against Human Trafficking a Must Wini
X
July 28, 2015 12:21 AM
The United States is promising not to give up its fight against what Secretary of State John Kerry calls the “scourge” of modern slavery. Officials released the country’s annual human trafficking report Monday – a report that’s being met with some criticism. VOA’s National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more from the State Department.
Video

Video US Calls Fight Against Human Trafficking a Must Win

The United States is promising not to give up its fight against what Secretary of State John Kerry calls the “scourge” of modern slavery. Officials released the country’s annual human trafficking report Monday – a report that’s being met with some criticism. VOA’s National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more from the State Department.
Video

Video Iran Nuclear Pact Wins Few New US Congressional Backers

Later this week, President Barack Obama returns from a trip to Africa to confront a U.S. Congress roiled by the nuclear accord with Iran, an agreement that has received the blessing of the U.N. Security Council. Days of intensive lobbying and testimony by top administration officials have won few new congressional supporters of the pact. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports.
Video

Video Washington DC Underground Streetcar Station to Become Arts Venue

Abandoned more than 50 years ago, the underground streetcar station in Washington D.C.’s historic DuPont Circle district is about to be reborn. The plan calls for turning the spacious underground platforms - once meant to be a transportation hub, - into a unique space for art exhibitions, presentations, concerts and even a film set. Roman Mamonov has more from beneath the streets of the U.S. capital. Joy Wagner narrates his report.
Video

Video Obama Encourages Kenya to Fix Cultures of Corruption, Discrimination

President Barack Obama bid farewell to Kenya Sunday with a major speech at as stadium outside the capital Nairobi where he called on Kenyans to change the cultures of corruption and discrimination that can hold society back. VOA East Africa Correspondent Gabe Joselow has the story.
Video

Video Europe’s Twin Crises Collide in Greece as Migrant Numbers Soar

Greece has replaced Italy as the main gateway for migrants into Europe, with more than 100,000 arrivals in the first six months of 2015. Many want to move further into Europe and escape Greece’s economic crisis, but they face widespread dangers on the journey overland through the Balkans. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Stink Intensifies as Lebanon’s Trash Crisis Continues

After the closure of a major rubbish dump a week ago, the streets of Beirut are filling up with trash. Having failed to draw up a plan B, politicians are struggling to deal with the problem. John Owens has more for VOA from Beirut.
Video

Video Paris Rolls Out Blueprint to Fight Climate Change

A U.N. climate conference in December aims to produce an ambitious agreement to fight heat-trapping greenhouse gases. But many local governments are not waiting, and have drafted their own climate action plans. That’s the case with Paris — which is getting special attention, since it’s hosting the climate summit. Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at the transformation of the French capital into an eco-city.
Video

Video Racially Diverse Spider-Man Takes Center Stage

Whether it’s in a comic book or on the big screen, fans have always known the man behind the Spider-Man mask as Peter Parker. But that is changing, at least in the comic book world. Marvel Comics announced that a character called Miles Morales will replace Peter Parker as Spider-Man in a new comic book series. He is half Latino, half African American, and he is quite popular among comic book fans. Correspondent Elizabeth Lee reports from Los Angeles.
Video

Video California Towns Welcome Special Olympics Athletes

Cities and towns in Southern California are greeting thousands of athletes who are arriving for Special Olympics, a competition for people with intellectual disabilities. The games will run from July 25th through August 2nd. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports from Pasadena, California, where athletes from Namibia, Singapore and Tanzania got a rousing welcome from local residents.
Video

Video Critics of Japan Defense Policy Focus on Okinawa

In Okinawa, many locals have long complained that Tokyo places an unfair burden on the tiny island by locating most of Japan's U.S. military bases there. As Japan's government moves toward strengthening and expanding the country's defense policies, opponents of those plans are joining local protesters in Okinawa, voicing concern about where the country is headed. VOA’s Brian Padden reports from Okinawa.
Video

Video IS Uses Chemical Weapons in Syrian Attack

Islamic State militants have added a new weapon in their arsenal of fear: chemical weapons. VOA Kurdish service reporter Zana Omer was on the scene within hours of a recent attack in Hasakah, Syria, and has details of the subsequent investigation, in this report narrated by Miguel Amaya.
Video

Video Historic Symbol Is Theme of Vibrant New Show

A new exhibit in Washington is paying tribute to the American flag with a wide and eclectic selection of artwork that uses the historic symbol as its central theme. VOA’s Julie Taboh was at the DC Chamber of Commerce for the show’s opening.
Video

Video Hoverbike Flying Toward Reality

Another long-standing dream of many technological inventors is quickly approaching reality: U.S.- and British-based firms are cooperating in the development of an individual flying platform they call a hoverbike. They say it may revolutionize the concept of flying, including in the U.S. military. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video As Japan Expands Defense Role, Protests Follow

The Japanese government is moving forward with a controversial security bill that would authorize the military to fight abroad for the first time since World War II. Leaders say it is critical to defend against rising threats from China and North Korea. VOA’s Brian Padden reports from Japan on the big changes ahead, and the opposition they are drawing.
Video

Video Replacing Poppies with Coffee in Myanmar

The remote mountains of Myanmar’s Shan state are home to the second-largest opium-producing region in the world. After a drop during the 2000s, production surged in the past eight years to feed an increasing demand for heroin in China. But farmers are now making less on the crop, and the U.N. is hoping many will make the switch to growing coffee. Daniel de Carteret reports for VOA from Taunggyi.

VOA Blogs