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Libya: reuniting hundreds of families

23-06-2011 News Release 11/142

Benghazi/Tripoli/Geneva (ICRC) – With support from the Libyan Red Crescent, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has begun a maritime transfer of people separated from their families by the conflict in Libya.

Several hundred people, including 66 former detainees released by the Libyan government, are set to be taken from Tripoli to the eastern city of Benghazi in two rotations. In the other direction, about 110 people are due to leave the port of Benghazi bound for Tripoli.

"These civilians have been cut off from their relatives for four months now, unable to cross front lines because of the fighting," said Paul Castella, head of the ICRC delegation in Tripoli. "Most of the people we are transferring are Libyans who were working away from their home towns or visiting relatives or friends when the conflict broke out. They are very eager to rejoin their families."

The ICRC is coordinating this humanitarian operation with the authorities on both sides. All of the passengers produced proof that they reside on the other side of the front line, and the ICRC made sure that all are returning home of their own free will.

The operation will involve a total of three rotations by an ICRC-chartered vessel between Tripoli and Benghazi. A first group of almost 300 people has already left Tripoli. The entire operation is expected to last at least three days. A medical team and Libyan Red Crescent volunteers are aboard ship to accompany the returning passengers.

"Phone calls are impossible between the east and west of Libya except with satellite phones. Postal services are disrupted and Internet connections are erratic," said Mr Castella. "It has become extremely difficult for family members to keep in touch."

The ICRC has been working for four months to reunite or restore contact between family members separated as a result of the conflict. So far, it has organized more than 13,600 satellite telephone calls and delivered more than 640 "safe and well" messages, both within Libya and abroad. It has also helped detainees in the country to send messages to their families.

For further information, please contact:
Dibeh Fakhr, ICRC Benghazi, tel: +870 772 390 124
Robin Waudo, ICRC Tripoli, tel: +881 622 435 156
Steven Anderson, ICRC Geneva, tel: +41 79 536 92 50


Photos

Port of Tripoli. Passengers boarding the ship were assisted by ICRC staff and Libyan Red Crescent volunteers. 

Port of Tripoli. Passengers boarding the ship were assisted by ICRC staff and Libyan Red Crescent volunteers.
© ICRC / R. Waudo

Tripoli. A woman arrives at the port with her family. 

Tripoli. A woman arrives at the port with her family.
© ICRC / R. Waudo

Tripoli. This little girl is one of many children on board the vessel headed for Benghazi. 

Tripoli. This little girl is one of many children on board the vessel headed for Benghazi.
© ICRC / R. Waudo