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Libya: situation desperate in Sirte hospital

11-10-2011 News Release 11/211

Tripoli/Geneva (ICRC) – On 10 and 11 October, staff of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) evacuated a total of 25 war-wounded and other patients from Ibn Sina Hospital in Sirte. The patients had been left with only a few health-care personnel to care for them following fierce fighting in recent days.

"The situation inside the hospital is very chaotic and distressing," said Patrick Schwaerzler, the ICRC delegate in charge of the evacuations. "When we arrived there, we found patients with severe burns and shrapnel wounds. Some had sustained recent amputations. A few were half-conscious. They were lying among crowds of other people who were also asking us for help."

The hospital has been partly destroyed and is not functional any more. It was urgent to move out wounded patients requiring intensive care or specialized treatment. "Today we even brought out a newborn baby in its incubator," said Mr Schwaerzler.

On 11 October the ICRC evacuated 17 patients from Sirte hospital, most of them war casualties, accompanied by four close relatives and the baby of a patient. This morning, Libyan Red Crescent volunteers also brought seven patients who needed no further hospitalization, together with six family members, back to their homes on the eastern side of Sirte.

On 10 October the ICRC had evacuated eight wounded patients from the hospital.

The ICRC transferred the first group of evacuated patients to a hospital in Tripoli. The second group are being taken to a medical facility west of Sirte, for onward transport by helicopter to hospitals in Tripoli.

Four ICRC medical personnel, together with the remaining staff at the hospital, made sure the wounded patients were stable enough to be transported and willing to leave. All parties concerned agreed to this urgent evacuation.

The Libyan Red Crescent is transferring a further group of 18 foreign nationals (Egyptians, Palestinians and Lebanese), who had gathered at the hospital and wanted to leave the city, to Harawa, some 50 kilometres east of Sirte. From there they will proceed to a camp for displaced people in Benghazi. The evacuated foreigners, as well as the remaining foreign staff at the hospital and other foreign nationals there, were given the opportunity to make satellite phone calls to their loved ones, who had had no news of them since the outbreak of heavy fighting in Sirte.

"We saw hundreds of civilians fleeing Sirte yesterday and today, but thousands are still caught inside the city," said Mr Schwaerzler. "There is no electricity, and no food has reached civilians in the city for weeks. All parties engaged in the hostilities must take all possible precautions to spare them."

More than 20,000 people, among them many women, children and elderly people, have so far left their homes in Sirte. In addition, dozens of people have been arrested in recent days.

Three ICRC trucks and six lighter vehicles were used in the evacuations. An explosive ordnance disposal expert helped to make sure the road was safe. In total, 15 ICRC staff were involved in the two-day effort, which was carried out with the support of Libyan Red Crescent volunteers. This was the fourth time since the beginning of the month that the ICRC had entered Sirte to perform its humanitarian tasks.

For further information, please contact:
Dibeh Fakhr, ICRC Tripoli/Benghazi, tel: +88 16 22 411 614
or +218 9 923 304 560 or +218 913 066 198
Soumaya Beltifa, ICRC Tripoli/Benghazi, tel: +218 928 467 594
Steven Anderson, ICRC Geneva, tel: +41 22 730 20 11 or +41 79 536 92 50