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

Islamic State Survivor: A Yazidi Girl's Tale

Sarah Said Haydar, captured a year ago while fleeing Islamic State onslaught in northern Iraq, was so traumatized by militants, she sought to end her own life More

EU, US Applaud Kosovo Law on Special Court

Joint statement says lawmakers' decision to address allegations of war crimes 'demonstrated their commitment to the rule of law and to honor international agreements' More

ASEAN Ministers to Push for S. China Sea Agreements

According to documents obtained by VOA Khmer, ministers will stand up for 'freedom of navigation, unimpeded lawful maritime commerce, trade and over flight' 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.
Cambodia Makes Progress Curbing Bear Tradei
X
Robert Carmichael
August 04, 2015 3:07 PM
Cambodia’s wild bears are under unprecedented pressure. Their native forests are being cut down at record rates, and China's huge demand for traditional medicine has made them targets. But experts say Cambodia's conservation efforts are setting an example that has put it well ahead of its neighbors in protecting bears. Robert Carmichael reports for VOA from Phnom Penh.
Video

Video Cambodia Makes Progress Curbing Bear Trade

Cambodia’s wild bears are under unprecedented pressure. Their native forests are being cut down at record rates, and China's huge demand for traditional medicine has made them targets. But experts say Cambodia's conservation efforts are setting an example that has put it well ahead of its neighbors in protecting bears. Robert Carmichael reports for VOA from Phnom Penh.
Video

Video Growing Number of E. Jerusalem Palestinians Seek Israeli Citizenship

Most Palestinians living in East Jerusalem have long rejected the option of full Israeli citizenship, seeing it as a betrayal to their political cause - the formation of a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital. But as that dream remains elusive, more and more Palestinians are applying for Israeli citizenship. Zlatica Hoke reports the decision is hard for many Palestinians who say they have to be pragmatic about it.
Video

Video With No Money, More Students, African Universities Struggle

Academics from around the African continent converged in Johannesburg last week for the African Universities Summit, a chance to tackle some of the major issues facing higher education in Africa today. VOA's Anita Powell reports from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Iraqi Yazidis Fear Death of Their Community

A year ago on August 3, Islamic State militants stormed the homelands of Iraq’s Yazidi minority, killing hundreds of men and enslaving thousands of women. The scenes of desperate Yazidi families crowding on the top of Sinjar mountain without food or water spurred Kurdish fighters into action, an emergency airlift and the start of the U.S. airstrike campaign against the Islamic State Sunni extremists. VOA's Sharon Benh reports from northern Iraq.
Video

Video Bangkok Warned It Soon Could Be Submerged

Italy's Venice and America's New Orleans are not the only cities gradually submerging. The nearly ten million residents of the Bangkok urban area now must confront warnings the city could become uninhabitable in a few decades. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from the Thai capital.
Video

Video Inclusive Gym Gets People With Disabilities in Fitness Spirit

Individuals with special needs are 58 percent more likely to be obese than the general population. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, they also have an increased likelihood of anxiety, depression and social isolation. But a sports club outside Washington wants to make a difference in these people's lives. With Carol Pearson narrating, VOA's June Soh reports.
Video

Video Wisconsin's Voter ID Law Still Mired In Controversy

Voter ID laws have sparked controversy across the US. More than 30 states enacted laws requiring citizens to show identification before they vote. Against fierce opposition, the state of Wisconsin recently enacted one the most restrictive voter ID laws in country. As Jeff Swicord reports, no one can predict its impact as the 2016 election nears.
Video

Video Astronauts Train Underwater for Deep Space Missions

Manned deep space missions are still a long way off, but space agencies are already testing procedures, equipment and human stamina for operations in extreme environment conditions. Small groups of astronauts take turns in spending days in an underwater lab, off Florida’s southern coast, simulating future missions to some remote world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Ebola Vaccine Hailed as Highly Effective

At last, there's a way to end the suffering from the Ebola epidemic that has ravaged West Africa for more than a year. Researchers say the vaccine is so effective, there may never be a major outbreak of Ebola again. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.
Video

Video Special Olympics Show Competitors' Skill, Determination

Special Olympics competitions will wrap up Saturday in Los Angeles, and the closing ceremony for athletes with intellectual disabilities will be held Sunday night. In a week of competition, athletes have shown what they can do through skill and determination. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Civil Rights Leaders Struggled to Achieve Voting Rights Act

Fifty years ago, lawmakers approved, and U.S. President Lyndon Johnson signed, the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The measure outlawed racial discrimination in voting, giving millions of blacks in many parts of the southern United States federal enforcement of the right to vote. Correspondent Chris Simkins introduces us to some civil rights leaders who were on the front lines in the struggle for voting rights.
Video

Video Shooter’s Grill: Serving Food with a Touch of the Second Amendment

Shooter's Grill, a restaurant in Rifle, Colorado, attracts visitors from all over the world as well as local patrons. The reason? Waitresses openly carry loaded firearms as they serve food, and customers are welcome to carry them, too. VOA's Enming Liu and Lin Yang paid a visit to Shooter's Grill, and heard different opinions about this unique establishment.
Video

Video Despite Controversy, Business Owner Continues Sale of Confederate Flags

At Cooter’s, a store in rural Sperryville, Virginia, about 120 kilometers west of Washington, D.C., Confederate flags are flying off the shelves. The red, white and blue battle flag, with 13 white stars representing the Confederate states, was carried by southern forces during the U.S. Civil War in the 1860s. The South had seceded from the Union over several key issues of disagreement, including slavery. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.
Video

Video Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’

Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Hometown of Boy Scouts of America Founder Reacts to Gay Leader Decision

Ottawa, Illinois, is the hometown of W.D. Boyce, who founded the Boy Scouts of America in 1910. In Ottawa, where Scouting remains an important part of the legacy of the community, the end of the organization's ban on openly gay adult leaders was seen as inevitable. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

VOA Blogs