IRC assists foreign nationals fleeing violence in Libya amid concerns for civilians in the east
These Bangladeshi migrant workers in a refugee camp in Tunisia are among the 200,000 people who have fled to neighboring countries since the crisis in Libya erupted last month. (Photo: Chris de Bode/SV)
By Peter Biro
March 17, 2011 - An International Rescue Committee (IRC) assessment team has returned to Egypt following a three-day visit to the rebel-held city of Benghazi in eastern Libya, amid growing fears of an attack by forces loyal to Colonel Gaddafi that have taken up positions outside Ajdabiya, only 160 kilometers (100 miles) away. The IRC team spent its time in Benghazi assessing humanitarian needs.
“We are deeply concerned about the security and humanitarian situation for the civilian population in the eastern part of the country,” said Daire O’Reilly, who leads the IRC’s emergency relief efforts on Libya’s border with Egypt.
Although the situation in Benghazi is tense, with sporadic fighting in the suburbs, the city seemed relatively normal on the surface, O’Reilly said.
The team headed by O’Reilly is one of two relief teams the IRC deployed to the region after violence in Libya erupted last month. The second team is providing support to thousands of refugees crossing into Tunisia on Libya’s western border. They are also putting in place humanitarian contingency plans should there be an increased number of Libyans fleeing the mounting violence in the east of the country.
More than 200,000 people have poured into neighboring countries since the crisis in Libya erupted last month—nearly all of them foreigners, mainly from Bangladesh, who had been working in Libya.
“There has been a significant reduction in Bangladeshi nationals arriving in Tunisia although they still make up the majority of the population in the refugee camp,” said the IRC’s emergency response team leader Alan Manski, who is in Ras Ajdir on the Tunisia-Libya border.
Between 1,500 and 3,000 foreign refugees are repatriated every day depending on available flights and the capacity of the Bangladeshi authorities to handle the mass return of their nationals, Manski said. As of today, about 12,000 people remained in the camps in Tunisia and the number is expected to shrink in the days ahead.
The IRC has been providing 60 refugees at Ras Ajdir with jobs and cash stipends to clean garbage and waste that has been piling up over the past three weeks. In an effort to prevent the spread of disease, the IRC is producing billboards with health and hygiene messages that will be displayed across the camp. The IRC is also assisting in a detailed survey of the camp’s population which will help to determine gaps in services and any instances where particularly vulnerable people might require special help. The IRC and its partners are also assisting new arrivals from Libya with essential information about the services available to them within the camp.