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Libya: clearance of unexploded weapons has started

04-05-2011 Operational Update

Weapon contamination, displacement, detention and shortages of water and medicines are the most pressing problems people are currently facing in Libya. The ICRC, working from its offices in Tripoli and Benghazi, continues to help the victims despite a difficult security situation.

Reducing the danger of unexploded munitions for civilians

Libyan civilians are exposed to the dangers of unexploded or abandoned explosive devices in many places, such as Ajdabiya, Misrata and Benghazi, where intense fighting has taken place. Injuries, mainly to children, have been reported in the past few days.

In Ajdabiya, in addition to facing uncertainty about the evolution of the fighting, many people are not able to return to their homes because of the threat posed by unexploded munitions. Such devices include rockets, shells and mortars. They can be found anywhere in residential areas, even in gardens, or inside houses or public buildings.

"On 3 May we started clearing dangerous devices in parts of Ajdabiya," said Herby Elmazi, the ICRC delegate in charge of the clearance operation. "This is the beginning of a sustained effort to reduce the weapon contamination hazard for the civilian population. The effort will hopefully be extended to conflict-torn Misrata in the near future." ICRC experts mark the most affected areas before proceeding with the safe removal or deactivation of dangerous devices. "The ICRC is the only organization with a fully operational team currently able to clear these kinds of devices in Libya," added Mr Elmazi.

The ICRC clearance team is working in close cooperation with Libyan Red Crescent volunteers, who are playing an essential role in determining which areas in Ajdabiya have been contaminated. They convey the information to the ICRC team so that it can proceed with the clearance operation.

The ICRC also launched a campaign to raise awareness among civilians of the risks posed by unexploded ordnance. In cooperation with the Libyan Red Crescent, it is organizing information sessions and distributing posters and leaflets to alert the population.

Tens of thousands waiting to return home or to leave Misrata

In Ajdabiya and other areas affected by fighting, tens of thousands of people have had to flee their homes and seek refuge with host families or in camps. While Ajdabiya is relatively calm now, the city is nearly empty owing to the persistent lack of security and the constant danger posed by unexploded munitions.

"In Misrata, heavy fighting is ongoing, forcing more and more families to head towards the port, waiting for a boat to evacuate them from the city," said Georgios Georgantas, the ICRC's deputy head of operations for North and West Africa. "The humanitarian situation is deteriorating further because the water supply is disrupted, as are health care and other basic services. We are in contact with the authorities with a view to returning as soon as possible to Misrata, by sea from Benghazi and overland from Tripoli, to help civilians." Between 18 and 27 April, the ICRC evacuated by ship around 2,500 civilians, mainly stranded foreign nationals.

Over the past two weeks, working together with Libyan Red Crescent volunteers, the ICRC has distributed food parcels, baby food, hygiene kits, kitchen sets and blankets to about 30,000 internally displaced people, most of whom are being accommodated by host communities or staying in public buildings along the coast in the eastern part of the country.

Helping detainees and dispersed families

ICRC delegates are continuing their humanitarian visits to people detained in Benghazi to check on the conditions in which they are being held and the treatment they receive. The delegates have so far talked to 200 detainees in private. ICRC delegates have also visited detainees in Misrata. In its capacity as a neutral intermediary, the ICRC flew five released detainees home to Tripoli from Benghazi on 30 April. The organization is intensifying its contacts in Tripoli in the hope of obtaining access to detainees in western Libya.

Restoring contact between detainees and their families, and between members of families dispersed by the conflict, is another important part of the ICRC's work in Libya. "Families are suffering a lot because of separation and lack of news," said Sébastien Koller, an ICRC delegate. "We are making satellite phones available in our offices and in camps run by the Libyan Red Crescent so that family members can get in touch with one another and exchange news." So far, more than 4,000 such phone calls have been made.

Providing support for medical personnel and promoting humanitarian law

Obtaining access to health care remains a challenge for civilians in areas such as Misrata, where the hospital is struggling to cope with the influx of casualties. On 25 and 26 April, the ICRC organized a workshop on war surgery for more than 25 doctors and nurses in Benghazi.

A specialized ICRC delegate gave presentations on the principles of international humanitarian law to more than 600 weapon bearers in facilities of the Libyan armed opposition in Benghazi. In addition, an ICRC legal adviser has held workshops on the rules of international humanitarian law for judges, lawyers, university professors and university students, also in Benghazi.

People fleeing violence in Libya assisted in Tunisia and Egypt

In south-eastern Tunisia, the ICRC and the Tunisian Red Crescent are continuing to assist civilians arriving from Libya. According to UNHCR, since 7 April over 30,000 Libyan refugees fleeing fighting in the area of Nalut and Zintan have crossed the border at Dehiba. Some 3,000 have assembled in Remada camp, but most are staying with host families. About 5,000 stranded foreign nationals are still in the Choucha camps in the vicinity of the Ras Ajdir border crossing.

More than 50,000 kits containing such items as blankets, jerrycans and hygiene products have been distributed in the camps since the beginning of March. Almost 16,000 recycled blankets have been given to the Tunisian Red Crescent and local hospitals since the end of March, and 4,000 mattresses have been donated to Libyan families in Remada camp since 15 April.

In order to improve hygiene conditions and water supply, the ICRC has built over 50 showers, set up 17 clothes-washing areas and delivered more than 200 plastic latrines in Remeda camp, and installed a 70 cubic-metre water tank in Choucha. It has also donated surgical and anaesthetic supplies, dressing materials, first-aid items and a tent for consultations to Dehiba hospital to help it provide care for refugees. In addition, it donated a kit containing enough surgical supplies to treat 100 wounded people for 10 days to Tataouine hospital.

Since late February, the ICRC has arranged for over 50,000 telephone calls to be made to re-establish contact between people fleeing Libya into Tunisia and their loved ones.

In Egypt, the ICRC is also working closely with the national Red Crescent society, supporting volunteers organizing food distributions for people stranded at the Sallum border crossing. Since the beginning of this week, breakfast has been provided for an average of 3,000 people a day. The ICRC and the Egyptian Red Crescent have also given people the opportunity to make over 4,600 phone calls to re-establish or maintain contact with members of their families since the onset of the crisis. In addition, the ICRC has helped thousands of people who are neither Egyptian nor Libyan and have no valid travel document to obtain the papers needed to return to their home countries.

More than 1,200 tonnes of medical supplies, food and other items have been channelled through Egypt to support the ICRC operation in Libya since it began in late February.

For further information, please contact:
Dibeh Fakhr, ICRC Benghazi, tel: +870 772 390 124
Steven Anderson, ICRC Geneva, tel: +41 22 730 20 11 or +41 79 536 92 50

 

See also: Unexploded weapons a further threat to lives


Photos

Ajdabiya, Libya. This shell entered the kitchen of a house through a wall but failed to explode. 

Ajdabiya, Libya. This shell entered the kitchen of a house through a wall but failed to explode.
© ICRC

Ajdabiya, Libya. An ICRC clearance team removes the unexploded shell from the kitchen, ready to move it to an area where it can be blown up safely. 

Ajdabiya, Libya. An ICRC clearance team removes the unexploded shell from the kitchen, ready to move it to an area where it can be blown up safely.
© ICRC

Tobruk, Libya. Libyan Red Crescent volunteers distribute emergency aid to displaced families, most of them from Ajdabiya. 

Tobruk, Libya. Libyan Red Crescent volunteers distribute emergency aid to displaced families, most of them from Ajdabiya.
© ICRC