Reports out of the UN about the effects of the fighting in Lybia have raised estimates of displaced citizens from about 100,000 to 290,000. Friday the UN High Commission for Refugee Affairs (UNHCR) gave warnings of a new wave of thousands of people being displaced from their homes as fighting is taking place in 29 different cities and towns across Libya. UNHCR representative Adrian Edwards gave a briefing to the press in Geneva outlining the escalating situation. He warned that the ever-increasing number of refugees is rapidly creating shortages of resources that threaten to become a humanitarian crisis.
The primary source of the displaced in Libya is in Warshefana, just outside Tripoli, along with the Benina region near Benghazi. For the time being, refugees unable to stay with family have been housed in schools and emergency shelters hastily converted out of non-residential buildings, or with families willing to open their homes to the displaced. The growing number, however, will outpace the ability of the authorities in Libya to cope quickly. In the small town of Ajaylat, about 80 kilometers outside of Tripoli, refugees now represent 10 percent of the population, and available resources have been quickly depleted. In particular, health care personnel are overwhelmed by the volume of patients and the lack of supplies.
There is a severe shortage of medications to treat chronic illnesses such as diabetes and high blood pressure, and lack of private space threatens to cause an increase in communicable diseases with no way to effectively quarantine the sick. These problems are being seen in several areas of Western Lybia, though currently focused in the Tripoli and Benghazi regions. While some humanitarian aid has been sent to a small percentage of the displaces, Edwards warns that the situation is likely to get much worse and that there is a need for aid that is getting daily more pressing. The UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) has been repeatedly calling for the fighting to stop in order that they be able to conduct evaluations and humanitarian aid missions. Thus far these calls have fallen on deaf ears. The UN has made an appeal for funding so that they can provide the necessary aid in light of an already stretched budget.
In addition to the local displaced, Libya was already host to foreign asylum-seekers and refugees out of other Middle Eastern countries as well as those fleeing troubles in Sub-Saharan Africa. Many of these, seeking to avoid the Libyan policy of detaining migrants and refugees, have turned to smugglers to get them through Libya on their way to Europe across the Mediterranean. The already-dangerous journey has been complicated by the fighting, and the fallout has compounded the local displacement problem. Without the aid that the UN is attempting to collect and distribute, the worsening problem of meeting basic needs for the displaced could quickly explode. Even if they are able to obtain the needed aid, without a cease-fire, it will be very difficult to distribute it properly. Edwards indicated that delays in current aid missions were because of the need to obtain permission for the convoys to travel safely to affected areas. As the fighting continues, displaced residents of Libya by the thousands are waiting and hoping for a way to stay alive and safe.
By Jim Malone