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Libya: first-aiders in the line of fire

11-06-2012 Feature

First-aiders have the most dangerous medical job during armed conflicts, providing immediate life-saving care to the injured and evacuating them from the front lines to safety. Adem Salem Shnaisheh is in charge of emergency response at the Libyan Red Crescent in Misrata. Six months after the end of the Libya conflict, he recalls his distressing experiences as a volunteer during the fighting.

International law ignored

"At the height of the conflict we were working round the clock to evacuate casualties from the front lines, regardless of who they were. But we felt like there was no protection for us," says Adem.

Although his ambulance was hit twice, he survived with “just” a piece of shrapnel in his head. During the eight months of fighting, he saw 35 of his colleagues injured on duty. Bullets and shrapnel also wounded several Libyan Red Crescent volunteers working on the other side of the front line.

At least seven health workers lost their lives trying to save the lives of others. Some of them were Libyan Red Crescent volunteers. "In time of war, the international rules that protect medical staff and facilities are often ignored, and fighters just do whatever they want if it will help them achieve their aims. We felt that no distinction was made between combatants and health workers. Everyone and everything came under attack."

Ambulances under fire

Mohsen Ibrahim is a volunteer ambulance driver at the Libyan Red Crescent. "I had to change the windscreen of the ambulance three times during the conflict," he says. Mohsen was injured in the left eye by flying glass after a bullet hit his ambulance. The other three members of the ambulance crew were also injured in the incident. "We were the oxygen for the wounded, but they became victims a second time when we got shot," Mohsen concludes.

In Misrata alone, seven ambulances of the Libyan Red Crescent were completely destroyed by rocket fire. Many more still bear bullet holes.

From the front line to the conference room

Driven by the memory of colleagues who lost their lives and his front-line experience, Adem attended a conference held by the ICRC delegation in Dakar, Senegal, in April 2012. This event was part of a four-year campaign to raise awareness of the dangers, violence and threats that obstruct safe and effective health care in armed conflicts and other violent situations. The Dakar conference was one of a series that will be taking place across the world in an effort to find ways of tackling the problem.


Photos

Misrata, Libya. Adem Salem Shnaisheh, head of emergency response at the Libyan Red Crescent in Misrata. 

Misrata, Libya. Adem Salem Shnaisheh, head of emergency response at the Libyan Red Crescent in Misrata.
© ICRC / Xiangqun Hu

Libya. Mohsen Ibrahim, a volunteer ambulance driver at the Libyan Red Crescent. 

Libya. Mohsen Ibrahim, a volunteer ambulance driver at the Libyan Red Crescent.
© ICRC / Xiangqun Hu

Libya. A bullet hole shows where a Libyan Red Crescent ambulance came under attack during Libya’s 2011 conflict. 

Libya. A bullet hole shows where a Libyan Red Crescent ambulance came under attack during Libya’s 2011 conflict.
© ICRC / Xiangqun Hu / v-p-ly-e-00324

Misrata, Libya. An ambulance destroyed during the fighting. Luckily, no-one was on board when the vehicle was hit, but incidents like this claimed the lives of seven first-aiders and injured many others. 

Misrata, Libya. An ambulance destroyed during the fighting. Luckily, no-one was on board when the vehicle was hit, but incidents like this claimed the lives of seven first-aiders and injured many others.
© ICRC / Xiangqun Hu