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Libya: first access to the remote area of Sabha

03-06-2011 Operational Update

The ICRC continues to address urgent humanitarian needs in Libya. Having spent an entire week helping civilians in Misrata and having visited the Jebel Nefusa mountains for the first time, the ICRC is now at work in the south-western region of Sabha.

On 3 June, a six-member ICRC team, together with two volunteers from the Libyan Red Crescent, gathered first-hand information about the humanitarian situation in a remote desert area between the town of Sabha and the border with Niger and Chad. "One purpose of this trip was to evaluate the condition of stranded foreigners, as we have received reports that there are several thousand Chadians in the area who urgently need help," said Paul Castella, head of the ICRC's delegation in Tripoli. "The team has been in Sabha since 1 June. As far as we know, this is the first independent assessment of humanitarian needs in this area since the beginning of the conflict."

Visits to detainees on both sides

On 2 June, the ICRC visited detainees held by the Libyan government in Sabha, to evaluate their treatment and the conditions in which they are being held. The ICRC plans to visit another place of detention in Murzuq, south of Sabha, in the coming days.

Earlier, on 21 May, the ICRC visited a group of detainees in the town of Jandouba in Jebel Nefusa, the mountainous area south-west of Tripoli and the scene of heavy fighting. The humanitarian situation in this part of the country may become dire if aid cannot be delivered soon to the civilian population.

"The visits to detainees in Sabha and Jebel Nefusa were the first we carried out within the framework of the agreement reached with the authorities," said Mr Castella. "This agreement includes visiting people detained in Tripoli itself." On 30 May, the ICRC transferred, by plane from Tripoli to Benghazi, three detainees released by the authorities.  

In Misrata, the ICRC visited 280 detainees held by the Libyan armed opposition, to monitor the conditions in which they were being held and their treatment. Clothes and hygiene kits were distributed to these people and messages collected for delivery to their families. In Benghazi, delegates visited the detainees in the Juvenile Correctional Centre and in the 17th of February Camp.

Inside Misrata  

The port and the central areas of this conflict-torn city are now safer, but unexploded devices litter the streets and thousands of people have been displaced as a result of the front line shifting into farmland on the outskirts of the city.

"The unexploded weapons in Misrata are a serious threat that prevents many people from returning home," said Guy Marot, an ICRC delegate. Several dozens of civilian casualties have been reported. A team of ICRC experts has started training 40 local volunteers in basic techniques for disposing of the explosive ordnance. The volunteers are also being helped to alert residents to the hazardousness of these devices. Their training will continue for some weeks and equipment for disposing of the unexploded ordnance will be provided to them. "We conducted surveys inside Misrata to identify the areas most affected by unexploded devices and mark them," added Mr Marot. "These areas include Tripoli Street and the covered market."

In Misrata, the ICRC gave 25 volunteers of the Libyan Red Crescent training in first aid. "A large number of the volunteers in Misrata are young people. They want very much to help civilians affected by the situation, but they have not been trained to act in dangerous situations and to deliver first-aid to wounded people," said Bertrand Kern, an ICRC delegate in charge of cooperation activities with the Libyan Red Crescent. A total of 23 people – doctors, Libyan Red Crescent volunteers and members of the Misrata emergency committee – were given a short course in the management of dead bodies.

In addition, food sufficient for two weeks and essential items were distributed to 10,000 people in need in Misrata.

Restoring contact between members of families dispersed by the conflict

In the past two weeks, the ICRC enabled many people to get back in touch with their families via satellite phone: over 500 calls were made from Benghazi to various parts of the country.

Many requests for assistance or transfer were received in Tripoli. More than 300 people approached the newly established delegation in the past week alone. On 19 May, the ICRC reunited two persons from Tripoli with their families in the east.

In the past two weeks, the ICRC, operating from Benghazi, also distributed food and other essential items to more than 25,000 displaced people in various towns in the east, and delivered equipment to repair the electrical network between Benghazi and Ras Lanouf. Together with volunteers from the Libyan Red Crescent, the ICRC also continued to educate people about the risks of unexploded ordnance; so far, the campaign has reached more than 2,500 displaced people, almost 700 children among them.

Emergency assistance in ruined camp

Following the dispute that erupted on 24 May in the main camp at Choucha, along the border in south-eastern Tunisia, the ICRC's warehouse and tents were looted and damaged beyond repair. However, the 70 cubic-metre water tank installed by the organization is intact and activities aimed at maintaining contact between the migrants who fled Libya and their families abroad will be restored in the coming days. While authorities consider relocating some of these people, the ICRC and the Tunisian Red Crescent distributed 20,000 water bottles and 3,000 recycled blankets to foreigners stranded in Choucha after the destruction of the camp.

Almost 55,000 kits containing such items as blankets, jerrycans and hygiene products have been distributed in the camps along the border since the beginning of March. The ICRC is also building a 5.3-kilometre-long water pipeline between existing wells and the main tank in Ben Guerdane in order to increase the supply of fresh drinking water for the local and the refugee population. Food assistance was also provided to Libyan refugees staying at the Maison de la Jeunesse in Zarzis.

Meanwhile, at the Sallum border crossing in Egypt, the ICRC in conjunction with the Egyptian Red Crescent continues to provide breakfast every day: almost 13,500 people have benefited from this in the past ten days. On 23 May, volunteers from the Egyptian Red Crescent began to provide dinner as well. On 24 May alone, almost 600 foreign nationals arrived in Sallum. Since that day, the ICRC has helped people stranded at the border to make almost 2000 phone calls to their relatives. Finally, two persons evacuated from Misrata in Libya were reunited with their families in Sallum.

For further information, please contact:
Dibeh Fakhr, ICRC Benghazi, tel: +870 772 390 124
Anna Nelson, ICRC Geneva, tel: +41 79 217 32 64


Photos

Misrata, Libya. People move about a market where unexploded devices and other remnants of war have been gathered. 

Misrata, Libya. People move about a market where unexploded devices and other remnants of war have been gathered.
© ICRC

Misrata, Libya. An ICRC expert team instructs local volunteer trainees on basic techniques to dispose of explosive ordnance. 

Misrata, Libya. An ICRC expert team instructs local volunteer trainees on basic techniques to dispose of explosive ordnance.
© ICRC / ly-e-00095

Misrata, Libya. An ICRC delegate provides first-aid training to Libyan Red Crescent volunteers. 

Misrata, Libya. An ICRC delegate provides first-aid training to Libyan Red Crescent volunteers.
© ICRC

The bombed-out shell of this building illustrates the heavy fighting that took place in Misrata. 

The bombed-out shell of this building illustrates the heavy fighting that took place in Misrata.
© ICRC / ly-e-00096