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Libya: hardship and danger remain

By International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC)
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TRIPOLI, Libya, February 16, 2012/African Press Organization (APO)/ -- Thousands of people remain in detention, individual lives and communities continue to be threatened by unexploded devices, and many families are still trying to find out what happened to their missing loved ones. The ICRC is pressing ahead with its humanitarian work.

A year after the violence first erupted, the country has now entered a transitional phase that typically follows an armed conflict. Although the health system and infrastructure are generally back on track, many other issues need to be solved. This will take time.

Effective monitoring of the situation of detainees

ICRC delegates currently visit approximately 8,500 detainees in more than 60 places of detention. About 10 per cent of the people held are foreign nationals.

"We pay particular attention to the treatment of detainees and stress that their dignity must be respected at all times," said Mr Comninos. "The current situation is complex and challenging, with many places of detention and many different authorities in charge." The ICRC has called upon the authorities at various levels to ensure that detainees are handed over to the Ministry of Justice and are placed in suitable detention facilities as soon as possible.

"While we remain committed to addressing any issues in a bilateral manner with those in charge, the current situation in Libya has confirmed that our work is needed in places of detention," said Mr Comninos. "Our expertise and the quality of the dialogue we have established with the authorities at all levels enable us to obtain certain improvements at this critical moment."

ICRC visits take place regularly. The organization's delegates talk in private with detainees of their choice in order to monitor the conditions in which these people are being held and the treatment they receive. All detention facilities and all detainees must be visited. The ICRC also looks into the detainees' need for medical attention, and detainees are given the opportunity to contact their families.

Between the beginning of March 2011 and the end of last year, the ICRC carried out some 225 visits in 100 places of detention in Libya.

In order to help ensure that conditions of detention are acceptable, the ICRC has also provided detainees with aid. More than 2,500 hygiene kits have been distributed to detainees in over 30 facilities throughout the country. In prisons in the Nefusa mountains, Tajoura, Tripoli and Misrata, the supplies provided included over 3,000 blankets, 700 mattresses, and almost 2,900 sweaters and other winter items.

Reducing the risks posed by explosive remnants of war

To date, many areas affected by fighting remain contaminated by unexploded ordnance. This continues to pose a serious threat to civilians as they try to get back to the life they had before the conflict. The city of Sirte is the worst affected area in the country.

Over the past few weeks, reports about explosive remnants of war still littering Sirte have been collected at a community clinic and at the local branch of the Libyan Red Crescent Society. The ICRC also works in close coordination with local authorities to identify areas that need to be cleared. "We have removed hundreds of unexploded devices from Sirte since November 2011," said Jennifer Reeves, the coordinator of this ICRC programme. "Now we also need to coordinate our activities with those of other organizations that have arrived on the scene to help with the clearing."

In the Nefusa mountains, ICRC staff are working with the local authorities to destroy abandoned ammunition. Alerted by reports from the community, they are also clearing contaminated farmland in remote areas.

At the beginning of February, volunteers from 15 Libyan Red Crescent branches received three days of training on how to educate communities about the risks posed by unexploded ordnance, how to collect data about casualties and how to identify dangerous areas.

Access to clean water and health care

In early February the ICRC donated seven new pumps needed to supply clean drinking water to an estimated 32,000 people in the town of Al Qubah and 12 villages near Benghazi. "The population had spent three months without an adequate or regular supply of potable water," said Sari Nasreddin, the ICRC delegate in charge of the operation. "The water network stopped functioning because no maintenance was performed on the original pumps during the conflict. People were relying on water-trucking services, which were not able to supply enough water for all those in need."

As clashes continue to occur sporadically in the country, causing casualties, the ICRC is re-supplying health-care facilities where needed in order to ensure that weapon-wounded patients can be properly treated. Enough surgical supplies to treat 100 wounded patients were delivered to Assaba'a along with other medical items, and surgical instruments were provided in Gharyan. In December 2011, the ICRC organized a seminar on the surgical treatment of patients with weapon-related injuries, an event that was attended by over 100 surgeons from all over the country.

Family reunited in Sabha

The life of Aisha, a 52-year-old widow and mother of seven children from Sirte, came to a standstill in October 2011. That day she went out with her 10-year-old son and was stuck outside the city because of the fighting. By the time she and her son finally managed to return home, her house had been completely burned down and her six other children were dead.

Aisha and her son were forced to leave. They ended up in the Sidi Faraj camp for displaced people in Benghazi. The camp manager noticed that Aisha and her son were terribly traumatized, and brought them to the attention of the ICRC. Aisha said she wanted to be reunited with her 15-year-old granddaughter, living with a host family in a village close to Sabha in southern Libya. On 25 January, Aisha and her son were taken there by the ICRC. "It was a very moving experience," said Fatma Eljack, an ICRC delegate who accompanied them on their two-day journey from Benghazi to Sabha. "Aisha had lost everything: her house, her personal effects and, above all, her children."

In late June and early July 2011, in cooperation with the Libyan Red Crescent, the ICRC carried out a large-scale maritime transfer to reunite several hundred families dispersed by the conflict.

Approached by grief-stricken families, the ICRC is providing the authorities with technical support and advice to help them in their efforts to clarify the fate of hundreds of missing people.