New York, NY, May 14, 2020 — A spate of recent attacks on hospitals, ports and airports in Libya are further weakening the country’s already fragile ability to fight the COVID-19 pandemic, warns the IRC.
As Tripoli was hit by shelling once again this morning, the city’s Central Hospital was damaged by shrapnel and 14 civilians were injured in similar attacks that impacted residential areas of the city. Tripoli Central Hospital is one of the city’s largest - and is key to the country’s COVID-19 response.
Al-Jalla Hospital in Benghazi - one of the few fully functioning health facilities remaining in Libya - came under attack on May 10 when an armed group opened fire inside the Intensive Care Unit. Several pieces of equipment were severely damaged - including seven respirators, a number of monitors and an ultrasound machine. Health facilities and staff are protected under international humanitarian law yet such attacks continue in Libya without proper investigation.
Two passenger planes were damaged when heavy shelling hit Mitiga Airport - the only functioning airport in the country - on Saturday. Mitiga is currently Libya’s only functioning airport and a key route for bringing humanitarian supplies into the country.
Additionally, 26 migrants were trapped on a boat off the Libyan coast for four days when intensive bombardments on Tripoli Central Port meant it was not deemed safe enough for them to be disembarked.
Tom Garofalo - the International Rescue Committee’s Libya Country Director - said:
“Attacks on hospitals in Libya are becoming far too frequent. Although thankfully no one was hurt today, Tripoli Central Hospital has 5,000 staff and 950 beds, so thousands of lives were at risk. Indiscriminate attacks on civilians and civilian infrastructure seem to be turning into a hallmark of the Libyan conflict. This year so far there have now been 17 attacks on field hospitals, ambulances, health care workers and medical supplies - further decimating the country’s already struggling health system.
“At least 80 people have been killed since January as a result of the fighting, and dozens more have been wounded. Libyans still do hope - even after a year of seeing little action - that the international community will at last hold those bombing civilians to account, enforce the arms embargo and take action to stop the fighting. Attacks on healthcare are a violation of international humanitarian law and it is long past time for the perpetrators of these attacks to be held accountable. With our health teams now fighting a pandemic in addition to overcoming the challenges of providing health care in a war zone, getting medical supplies into the country is more important than it has ever been.
“The conflict continues to force thousands of people to risk their lives in an attempt to escape the violence and reach Europe. So far this year, 3,078 people have been intercepted at sea and, just last week, 26 people were stuck on a boat off the coast of Tripoli for four days because heavy shelling meant it was not safe for them to be disembarked. Our teams were on the shore waiting to assist them, but the mission had to be aborted due to the intensity of the bombardments. They were finally able to come ashore on Sunday night, but it is unclear where they are now and we are urgently trying to locate them so that we can provide medical assistance and support.
“There is no doubt that it is civilians who are paying the highest price of this conflict. They are finding it extremely hard to worry about COVID-19 when they are more worried about losing their lives because of the fighting. To successfully fight this pandemic, we need an immediate ceasefire. But to ensure people’s safety in the long-term, it is imperative that we return to the UN-led peace process and that the UN Secretary General and member states ensure there is accountability for attacks against healthcare workers and facilities. We call for the immediate establishment of a UN focal point to report on and investigate such attacks.”
The IRC has launched a US $30 million appeal to help us mitigate the spread of coronavirus among the world’s most vulnerable populations. We are working across three key areas: to mitigate and respond to the spread of coronavirus within vulnerable communities; protect IRC staff; and ensure the continuation of our life-saving programming as much as possible across more than 40 countries worldwide.
The IRC is supporting the Libyan COVID-19 response with training of front-line health workers and the provision of additional isolation units. Our health staff are part of the five Rapid Response Teams the Ministry of Health has created to carry out initial assessments of suspected cases and tracing of their contacts. With most public health facilities closed in Tripoli and Misrata due to a lack of capacity, our mobile support to the Ministry of Health is proving vital in reaching vulnerable communities in this response.
Since August 2016, the IRC has provided emergency and reproductive health services in western Libya. The IRC is one of the few international organizations with a direct presence in Libya with two offices in Tripoli and Misrata. As Libya continues to endure political instability and widespread violence, the IRC is focused on: providing critical healthcare in hard to reach places in western Libya, providing life-saving medicines to primary health clinics, where possible, providing a referral pathway for patients in urgent need, renovating primary health clinics which have been damaged during the civil war, deploying experienced social workers to provide case management and psychosocial support in communities impacted by the conflict.