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‘I was devastated when I saw my left leg was missing’: Story of a mine survivor in Libya

14 Sep 2020


Years of fighting between rival groups has resulted in significant contamination from explosive remnants of war in numerous cities across Libya, threatening the lives of local communities. Credit: Free Fields Foundation/GCS

By Jennifer Bose Ratka, OCHA Public Information Officer in Tripoli, Libya

More than nine years of hostilities in Libya have left many areas of the country severely contaminated with explosive hazards, threatening residential areas, schools, universities and hospitals.

With the re-taking of southern Tripoli by the Government of National Accord (GNA) and aligned forces in June, significant areas have been contaminated by booby traps, including improvised explosive device, landmines and explosive remnants of war by withdrawing forces. Since then, these deadly hazards have led to 65 people being killed and 114 others being injured as of 7 September, according to the Libya Mine Action Centre (LibMAC).

Omar,* a migrant from Morocco who engages in construction work, is one of the survivors. Fifteen years ago, he came to Libya with his wife in search of work to support his seven children, aged 6 to 22 years old, back home.

“I still have shrapnel under my skin, everywhere on my body. I was unconscious for 25 days. I remember waking up in the hospital confused. I was devastated when I saw that my left leg was missing. Slowly, the memories started coming back to me of what happened.”

Omar’s day started like any other. “It happened on a Sunday, during a normal work week for me. At around 9 or 10 a.m., I visited a house in the Ain Zara District in Tripoli to assess the work that needed to be done. I rebuild houses that have been damaged by the war.”

Ain Zara is one of the most contaminated areas in south Tripoli. Most residents left the area when the escalation of conflict started in Tripoli in 2019. “I remember entering the house with two of my colleagues and just as I turned around the corner, I stepped on a mine. I passed out immediately and only woke up about a month later in the hospital. My wife has been with me every day, but my accident put a lot of pressure on her as well and her blood pressure went up,” Omar said.

The road to recovery for survivors such as Omar is long and requires resources few can afford. “I have been in the hospital for 2 months and 20 days. I am counting the days. But I don’t know yet when I will be released,” he said.

Omar has been in the hospital for more than two months as he recuperates from a mine accident. Credit: OCHA

With people in Libya already struggling with exponential price increases for basic commodities, including food, rent and medicine, the impact of the conflict has hurt the most vulnerable the most. “I don’t know how to cover the medical bills and where to find the money for a prosthetic leg. On top of that, we are two months overdue in rent. Just one single antibiotic pill costs 150 Libyan dinars (approximately US$25 to $43). How can we afford this?”

In the early days after the fighting stopped, risk education was limited, but in response to the growing threat posed by explosive hazards in Libya, the UN Mine Action Service (UNMAS), together with LibMAC and partners including the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL), developed risk education materials to raise awareness and increase the safety of the Libyan population, as well as migrants and refugees. The intensification of outreach has resulted in an increase in the reporting of explosive devices and a significant decrease in the number of explosive accidents in recent weeks.

Credit: UNMAS

Mine Action partners are also engaging with authorities to undertake technical surveys and the Humanitarian County Team, led by the Protection Sector and Mine Action Sub-Sector, has offered technical advice to national authorities on the key steps to ensure that returns are safe, dignified and voluntary.

* The name of the survivor has been changed to protect their privacy and security.