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

Could Nemtsov Threaten Putin in Death as in Life?

Dynamic and debonair opposition leader had supported liberal economic reforms, criticized Russian president's aggression in Ukraine More

Oil Smuggling Highlights Challenges in Shutting Down IS Finances

Pentagon spokesman says Islamic State 'certainly continues to get revenue from the oil industry black market' but that airstrikes have made a dent More

India Focuses on Infrastructure, Investment to Propel Economy

Government expects economy to grow at 8 to 8.5 percent in next fiscal year 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 Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Casei
X
Katherine Gypson
February 25, 2015 11:30 PM
The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Case

The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Hurt Nascent Illinois Hydraulic Fracturing Industry

Falling oil prices are helping consumers purchase cheaper petroleum at the pump. But that’s made hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” less economically viable for the companies in the United States invested in the process. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports on one Midwestern town that was hoping to change its fortunes by cashing in on the next big U.S. oil boom.
Video

Video Fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan Fuels Mass Displacement

Heavy fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan state is causing hundreds of thousands to flee into uncertain conditions. Local aid organizations estimate as many as 400,000 civilians have been internally displaced since the conflict began more than three years ago, while another 250,000 have fled across the border to refugee camps in South Sudan. VOA's Adam Bailes reports.
Video

Video Lao Dam Project Runs Into Opposition

A Lao dam project on a section of the Mekong River is drawing opposition from local fishermen, international environmental groups and neighboring countries. VOA's Say Mony visited the region to investigate the concerns. Colin Lovett narrates.
Video

Video A Filmmaker Discovers Her Biracial Identity in "Little White Lie

Lacey Schwartz grew up in an upper middle-class Jewish family, in a town in upstate New York where almost everyone she knew was white. She assumed that she was, as well. Her recent documentary, Little White Lie, tells the story of how she uncovered the secret of her true racial background. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more on the film.
Video

Video Deep Under Antarctic Ice Sheet, Life!

With the end of summer in the Southern hemisphere, the Antarctic research season is over. Scientists from Northern Illinois University are back in their laboratory after a 3-month expedition on the Ross Ice Shelf, the world’s largest floating ice sheet. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, they hope to find clues to explain the dynamics of the rapidly melting ice and its impact on sea level rise.
Video

Video US-Cuba Normalization Talks Resume Friday

Negotiations aimed at normalizing diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba resume Friday. On the table: lifting a half-century trade embargo and easing banking and travel restrictions. There's opposition in Congress, but some analysts say there may be sufficient political and economic incentives in both nations for a potential breakthrough this year. VOA's Mil Arcega reports.
Video

Video Pakistan's Deadline For SIM Registration Has Cellphone Users Scrambling

Pakistani cell phone users have until midnight Thursday to register their SIM cards, or their service will be cut off. While some privacy experts worry about government intrusion, many Pakistanis are just worried about keeping their phone lines open. VOA Deewa reporter Arshad Muhmand has more from Peshawar.
Video

Video Myanmar Warns Factory Workers to End Strikes

Outside Myanmar's main city Yangon, thousands of workers walked off their jobs earlier this month demanding a doubling of their wages, pay raises after a year and input from labor unions on industrial regulations. Since Friday, the standoff has grown more tense as police moved in to disrupt the sit-ins, resulting in clashes that injured people from both sides. VOA correspondent Steve Herman visited industrial zones which have become a focus of Myanmar's fledgling workers rights movement.
Video

Video Oscar Winners Do More Than Thank the Academy

The Academy Awards presentation is Hollywood’s night to reward the best movies from the previous year. It’s typically a lot of glitter, a lot of thank you’s, a lot of speeches. But many of this year’s speeches carried messages beyond the thank you's. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti takes a look.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More