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Libya: UN trip to conflict areas finds displacement, violence and humanitarian need

7 June 2011 – The United Nations refugee agency said today that its officials in Libya have visited both Government and opposition-controlled areas and found significant displacement of people, widespread violence and an urgent need to support groups providing relief services to those in need.

Staff of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) joined an inter-agency assessment mission last week that went to the Libyan capital, Tripoli, as well as sites for internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Government-controlled areas near the city of Misrata, which is in opposition hands, UNHCR spokesperson Adrian Edwards told the weekly media briefing in Geneva.

The trip to the frontline areas of Zlitan, Al Khums and the Nafusa Mountain area of Gharian was coordinated with the Government. The mission’s conclusion was that the thousands of IDPs in those areas were coping relatively well with their plight, Mr. Edwards said.

Most are housed in hotels, dormitories and seaside homes and are being provided with assistance by the Government and some private charities. Warehouses are well stocked with basic food items, but it was apparent that the combined impact of protracted conflict and sanctions are eroding the Government’s ability to effectively deliver assistance.

“The view of the inter-agency mission was that if this situation continues, international aid is likely to be needed in a matter of weeks,” said Mr. Edwards.

In Tripoli, long queues for petrol are affecting normal life and shortages of essential commodities have raised stress levels for the population.

In opposition-controlled Misrata, which has seen some of the heaviest fighting, the mission met members of the city’s Transitional Council and was informed that there are an estimated 25,000 displaced people in the city or approximately 5,000 families.

Most of the IDPs are staying with host families and relatives, while others have moved into schools and unoccupied new buildings.

“In many cases Libyans are hosting up to seven or eight displaced families in their homes – a situation that is almost certainly unsustainable. People have not received salaries since January and banks are not operational,” said Mr. Edwards.

Several groups in Misrata, including the Libyan Committee for Humanitarian Relief, local businesses and engineering companies, are exploring ways to quickly provide accommodation for the IDPs.

“UNHCR is also ready to support the rebuilding of homes. We are also continuing to deliver regular relief by boat from Benghazi to Misrata through local partners,” said Mr. Edwards.

Several people spoke of widespread abductions in Misrata, with local charities and human rights groups saying that at least 1,000 people, mainly men, have been kidnapped or have disappeared since the conflict started in February, according to Mr. Edwards.

“Life is slowly picking up in Misrata with youth cleaning up the streets and shops reopening, but according to the Misrata Transitional Council, the city is facing food and medicine shortages,” he said.

Five hospitals in the city have recorded 630 deaths and 6,000 cases of injury, including those blamed on unexploded ordnance. Some 80 per cent of the nurses in the hospitals, most of whom were expatriates, left the city early into the crisis and are being progressively replaced by medical students. Electricity has recently been restored in some parts of the city, according to Mr. Edwards.



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