Libya: taking action to help sub-Saharan Africans

06-09-2011 Operational Update

Foreign nationals in Libya, in particular sub-Saharan Africans, need protection and assistance. The ICRC is helping these and other groups, and making more visits to detainees. It continues to assist the wounded and help identify the dead, and is ready to send aid to Sirte.

The ICRC is concerned about the stigmatization of sub-Saharan Africans and certain Libyan communities in Tripoli and elsewhere in the country. "Civilians, whatever their nationality, political affiliation or race, must be protected at all times," said Georges Comninos, the head of the ICRC delegation in Tripoli.

ICRC delivers aid to a thousand sub-Saharan Africans

On 5 September, the ICRC and the Libyan Red Crescent distributed hygiene kits to about 1,000 sub-Saharan Africans who have taken refuge in the military port of Sidi Bilal, west of Tripoli.

"Sidi Bilal was a very dangerous place for these people to go to because of the unexploded ordnance there," said Per Bjerde, an ICRC expert. "Before distributing aid to them, we disposed of 62 anti-tank mines and 10 sea mines that were found in the area. We haven't heard of any fatal casualties, and now that the clearing operation is complete we are hopeful there won't be any."

The ICRC is coordinating its aid for the people in the port area with the Libyan Red Crescent and other humanitarian organizations. In addition, it is working with the local authorities to fully restore the supply of potable water. It will deliver food in the coming days. Meanwhile, together with the authorities, it is searching for a way to ensure the long-term security of the people in Sidi Bilal, for example by transferring them to a safer location.

Visit to 700 detainees in Tripoli

On 4 September the ICRC visited over 700 people, including many sub-Saharan Africans, held in a major detention facility under the responsibility of the new Tripoli Council. ICRC delegates and medical staff are visiting the facility again today. Hygiene kits are being delivered to the detainees.

"This is a very promising development," said Mr Comninos. "The authorities have been very cooperative and our delegates were able to carry out private interviews with detainees of their choice. However, the ICRC still hasn't obtained access to all detention places in the country." Since the start of the fighting in Tripoli more than two weeks ago, the ICRC has visited over 900 detainees in the city.

In recent days, visits have also taken place in Tobruk, in the eastern part of the country, and in the Nefusa mountains. The ICRC made arrangements for detainees to make telephone calls to their families. For those held in the prisons of Jadu and Yefren, it was the first opportunity they had had to speak with their loved ones.

ICRC ready to send aid to Sirte

The ICRC is concerned about a possible deterioration of the humanitarian situation in Bani Walid and Sirte. It is calling on the parties to the conflict to take all possible precautions to protect civilians.

The ICRC is establishing contact with the authorities and with the Libyan Red Crescent in Sirte with a view to providing assistance.

In Brega and villages along the road to Sirte

In Brega there is still no electricity, water is scarce, very few shops are open and the hospital does not function. Some 240 Sudanese oil workers stranded in the town have been given food aid. "The closest shop for them is 20 kilometres away and they don't have any way to get there," said Louise Broomhead, an ICRC delegate. "We also distributed food and hygiene kits to families staying in the university complex. The place is dangerous: it was bombed and is heavily contaminated with unexploded devices. The families are living in bad conditions and need to go to a safer place as soon as possible."

Several villages around Brega have been affected by the recent fighting. Some families are returning to their homes while many others are still displaced in nearby towns. On 5 September, ICRC and Libyan Red Crescent personnel distributed food and other items to around 6,000 people in villages between Ajdabiya and Ras Lanuf.

Today, ICRC staff are heading for the first time to Ben Jawad, Nawfaliya and Al Wassat, east of Sirte, to assess the needs of the people living there.

Helping to identify the dead

The ICRC is helping the Libyan Red Crescent, groups of volunteers, local councils as well as health and religious authorities with the proper management of human remains.

"It is very important to preserve any proof of identity of the dead," said Abdulbadih El Dada, an ICRC delegate. "We provide our partners with training and recommendations on how to collect and bury or store human remains. Locations must be filed, pictures taken, the bodies numbered… Collecting the clothes and carefully recording details concerning the condition in which the remains were found can also help in the identification process. To be able to mourn, the families need to know what happened to their loved ones."

The ICRC has helped to ensure that remains found at 12 different sites in and around Tripoli have been handled properly.

Caring for the wounded

An ICRC surgical team continued to treat patients in Sbea Hospital, south of Tripoli. Meanwhile, a second surgical team was transferred to the Nefusa mountains, where it has started helping medical staff at the hospital in Yefren to perform operations.

The ICRC has donated much-needed external fixators, wound-dressing kits and supplies for the treatment of war-wounded patients to the main hospital in Zawiya, west of Tripoli, and to the hospital in Yefren.

ICRC presence in Libya

The ICRC now has almost 180 staff, including 60 expatriates, working in Libya. It has had a delegation in Tripoli since April, and also has offices in Benghazi and Misrata, and in Jadu in the Nefusa mountains.

For further information, please contact:
Dibeh Fakhr, ICRC Benghazi, tel: +881 622 437 057 or +218 923 304 560
Soaade Messoudi, ICRC Tripoli, tel: +881 622 435 156 or +218 913 066 198
Steven Anderson, ICRC Geneva, tel: +41 79 536 92 50 or +41 22 730 20 11



The Libyan Red Crescent distributing ICRC hygiene kits to sub-Saharan migrant workers stranded in a makeshift camp in Sidi Bilal, west of Tripoli.
© ICRC / J. Björgvinsson / ly-e-00191


Supplies for the treatment of up to 50 patients with war-related injuries being unloaded from ICRC vehicles at the main hospital in Zawiya, west of Tripoli.
© ICRC / J. Björgvinsson / ly-e-00188.jpg


An ICRC anaesthetist in Sbea Hospital, south of Tripoli, examines a war-wounded man about to undergo an operation on his leg.
© ICRC / J. Björgvinsson / ly-e-00187.jpg

Sidi Bilal, abandoned fishing port west of Tripoli, 05.09.2011. A Libyan Red Crescent volunteer playing with a child as sub-Saharan migrant workers wait for an ICRC distribution of hygiene kits to begin. 

Sidi Bilal, abandoned fishing port west of Tripoli, 05.09.2011. A Libyan Red Crescent volunteer playing with a child as sub-Saharan migrant workers wait for an ICRC distribution of hygiene kits to begin.
© ICRC / J. Björgvinsson / ly-e-00190