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Libya: safe access needed to Sirte and Bani Walid

23-09-2011 News Release 11/196

Tripoli / Geneva (ICRC) – In recent days, thousands of civilians from Sirte and Bani Walid have fled the fierce fighting in their cities, which has included air strikes.

"We are very concerned about the people inside and near Bani Walid and Sirte," said Georges Comninos, who heads the delegation in Libya of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). "Food reserves and medical supplies are reportedly running short in both cities. We are receiving many appeals to help the wounded and come to the aid of civilians generally".

The ICRC needs direct contact with the people in charge on the ground, and it needs their guarantee of safe access to be able to provide assistance appropriately.

The ICRC and the Libyan Red Crescent are doing what they can to help people driven from their homes by the fighting in Sirte. "A lot of families have fled no further than the outskirts in order to stay as close as possible to their homes," said Karen Strugg, head of the ICRC office in Misrata. "We've distributed food to over 800 people there." Other families have decided to press on to Tripoli or Misrata. For displaced people in transit, the Libyan Red Crescent has set up tents at Sdata Bridge, where people are resting before continuing westward. They are receiving water, juice, bread and cheese. Baby milk and diapers are also being given to mothers with infants.

On 21 September, an ICRC team went to the area of Tinineya, some 60 kilometers south of Bani Walid, in order to assess the situation of between 5,000 and 8,000 civilians who had fled heavy fighting in the town. However, security concerns forced the team to shorten its mission and return to Tripoli.

On 7 September, an ICRC ship headed for Sirte, loaded with, among other humanitarian aid, enough surgical supplies to treat about 200 wounded people. Unfortunately, it waited several hours off shore without obtaining authorization to enter the port. It is now standing by in Misrata, prepared to return on short notice. But so far the ICRC has been unable to contact those in charge.

In its capacity as a strictly neutral and independent humanitarian organization, the ICRC has repeatedly reminded those fighting on the ground in Libya as well as NATO forces of their obligations under international humanitarian law. "This conflict is being carried out in populated urban areas", said Georges Comninos. "It's particularly important that all possible precautions be taken to avoid civilian casualties. All parties to the conflict must carefully distinguish between civilian and military objects and must ensure safe access for medical and humanitarian personnel."

For further information, please contact:
Soaade Messoudi, ICRC Tripoli, tel. +218 913 066 198
Dibeh Fakhr, ICRC Benghazi, tel. +870 772 390 124 (ext. 250)  or  +218 9 923 304 560
Steven Anderson, ICRC Geneva, tel. +41 79 536 92 50  or  +41 22 730 20 11
Nicole Engelbrecht, ICRC Geneva, tel. +41 79 217 32 17


Outskirts of Sirte. A family fleeing from the fighting takes shelter by the roadside. 

Outskirts of Sirte. A family fleeing from the fighting takes shelter by the roadside.
© Reuters / Anis Mili

A family fleeing from the fighting in Sirte stands at a checkpoint on the outskirts of the town. 

A family fleeing from the fighting in Sirte stands at a checkpoint on the outskirts of the town.
© Reuters / Anis Mili