Libyan Choice: Starve or Run

CAIRO – Rights groups have condemned the indiscriminate attacks on residential areas in Misrata, that have worsened an already dire situation.

Libya’s third-largest city Misrata has been a major battleground between pro and anti-Gadhafi forces to secure control over this major Western Libyan port, which not only connects Tripoli with Gadhafi’s home town Surt but could also become the main line of division between east and west should the country be partitioned. 

At least eight civilians were reportedly killed on Apr. 14, including an Egyptian migrant worker preparing for evacuation from Misrata, after Soviet-designed Grads hit the residential area Qasr Ahmed. An attack on the Zawiyat el-Mahjoub medical clinic left another four wounded. 

Aid groups warn that the Libyan government forces’ use of indiscriminate shelling puts civilian- populated areas at risk. 

"The government’s use of indiscriminate firing of ground rockets, which in the past few days killed a number of civilians standing in line for bread, adds another layer of concerns to the deteriorating humanitarian crisis of dwindling food and medical supplies," Libyan researcher for New York-based Human Rights Watch, Heba Morayef told IPS. 

"The situation in Misrata is disastrous from a humanitarian perspective due to the city being under siege for so long, which has prevented aid supplies from entering." 

Libya is not a signatory to the Convention on Cluster Munitions – which bans the use, production, stockpiling and transfer of cluster munitions, requires states to destroy stockpiles, clear contaminated land and assist affected communities. The country’s stockpiles remain unknown. 

"No one should be selling these arms to Libya. Within the context of the Middle East, HRW has been advocating for countries in the region to ratify the conventions in hope that more leaders will understand the long-term impact cluster munitions had following the 2006 war in Lebanon," adds Morayef. 

Speaking to IPS from Benghazi, Dibeh Fakhr with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said that despite ongoing humanitarian efforts to evacuate foreign nationals and Libyan refugees, many remain trapped in dire living conditions and want to get out of Misrata. 

"On Monday our boat took out 618 foreign nationals, mainly from Sudan, Chad, Egypt and Morocco. There were also women and children among them. The boat will sail from Misrata to Tobruk and then the IOM (International Organization for Migration) will be in charge of taking them back to their countries," Fakhr said. 

"We sent another boat from Benghazi to Misrata on Tuesday morning, with medical supplies, hygiene kits, food items and around 8,000 liters of drinking water. We also had a team onboard that will carry out visits to the detention facilities in Misrata to inquire about the situation of those detained in relation to the recent conflict, as well as provide medical assistance to the hospitals." 

According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), nearly 489,313 people have fled violence via land borders in Libya, including 199,700 to Egypt, 236,151 to Tunisia, 36,580 to Niger, 14,126 to Algeria, 6,219 to Chad and another 2,800 to Sudan. 

Although migrant workers comprise the majority of those making a rapid exodus, more than 100,000 Libyans have also sought refuge elsewhere and the pace is increasing daily. 

In one instance, intensified fighting between Gadhafi and anti-government forces in the Western Mountains forced nearly 500 ethnic Berbers to seek shelter in the southern Tunisian town Dehiba, some 200 kilometers south of the Libyan border. 

Tunisian authorities estimate that in the past couple of days over 6,000 Libyan nationals have crossed into Dehiba, with nearly 10,000 reportedly crossing in last ten days. 

As the exodus gains momentum, aid organizations are appealing to international countries to donate about 68.5 million dollars in order to continue their refugee and evacuation programs over the next four months. 

Firas Kayal, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees representative at Tunisia’s Dehiba border says that although the local Tunisians have shown remarkable generosity by opening their homes, offering hotels for shelter, providing food and water to Libyan families the evacuation and repatriation of migrants and non-Libyan refugees could fall short if funds don’t start funneling in. 

"Initially we had nearly 20,000 individuals residing in the Chousha, United Arab Emirates Red Crescent and International Federation of Red Cross camps but now only 6,500 people remain. Around 28 percent of them are unable to be repatriated, mainly from Somalia and Eritrea, due to political situations in their home countries that forced them out in the first place," Firas Kayal told IPS. 

"The Remada camp at the Dehiba border, which we are setting up now with electricity and other amenities, is currently sheltering nearly 1,000 Libyan refugees. But we are in dire need of financial support to aid the local communities who are themselves running out of goods to share." 

However, the plight of non-Libyan migrants and refugees could become a humanitarian crisis in the region if funds don’t materialize soon to facilitate their rescue.

(Inter Press Service)

Author: Simba Russeau

Simba Russeau writes for Inter Press Service.