MSF in Libya: Even less access to those trapped in the fighting
March 15, 2011
As fighting in eastern Libya once again escalates, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) sees itself forced to withdraw its staff from Benghazi. The teams have moved to Alexandria in Egypt, or are on their way there. They will try to continue supporting Libyan health facilities, primarily through provision of medicines and medical materials. To date, MSF has made 33 tons of medical supplies available.
The security conditions make it now effectively impossible for medical teams to travel safely to areas where the ongoing fighting has left the most needs. On two different occasions last week, an MSF team headed for Ras Lanuf, one of the areas most affected by the ongoing violence, was forced to turn back due to insecurity. Similarly, a team that went to Brega and planned to set up a small operating theatre has had to postpone its activities as the frontline moved east. The surgical team, too, is now on standby in Alexandria.
MSF continues its efforts to cross into Libya from the west, to provide medical-humanitarian assistance to people stuck in the fighting, in particular to the wounded. However, the Libyan authorities still forbid MSF to enter the country from Tunisia, as they have since the MSF team first arrived on 23 February..
MSF has a team of 25 persons working at Ras Ajdir and at Dehiba, two frontier points on the border with Libya. Though the southern frontier crossing at Dehiba sees a far lower numbers of migrants crossing the border into Tunisia, a small team of doctors and psychologists are assisting those that arrive. At the much busier entry point at Ras Ajdir, MSF has set up two tents, one at the border itself and the other in the transit camp; here, approximately 18,000 people are currently seeking refuge while they await repatriation or resettlement, depending on their status.
With the support of numerous international organisations, Tunisians are covering the immediate medical-humanitarian needs in the border area. But MSF did detect a need to set up a mental health care programme, which has now been open since 4 March. Many of the migrants crossing into Tunisia say they witnessed or underwent varying degrees and forms of violence while in Libya and en route to Tunisia, while they also face an uncertain future. The psychosocial programme helps migrants deal with their experiences and alleviate their suffering while in transit in Tunisia. The psychologists offer group sessions and individual consultations.
The MSF team in Tunisia is equipped with around 16 tons of medical and logistical material, with more on the way.
In addition, MSF has a team of three in Malta and two on the island of Lampedusa, Italy. They offer medical assistance, mainly through mobile clinics, to migrants who have crossed the Mediterranean.