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Libya’s Humanitarian Coordinator underlines the need to restore essential services for people affected by conflict

08 Dec 2019

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Humanitarian Coordinator Yacoub El Hillo listens to a briefing on Moftah’s condition. credit: OCHA/Intisar Alqsar

by Intisar Alqsar

Moftah, a 10-year-old boy from Tawergha, a town south-east of the Libyan capital Tripoli, lies in his hospital bed, exhausted after receiving his first daily dose of medication to treat acute anaemia. His mother tells us, “Moftah has had anaemia from the time he was 1 year old and since then we have had to come to the hospital three times a day for treatment. This trip has become our daily routine and we don’t mind. We want our child to live his life like any normal healthy child, playing with joy.” She tears up as she says this.

However, the outbreak of violence in Libya in 2011, and the persistent insecurity and recurring armed clashes since, have made sustaining these hospital visits extremely challenging for the family. “The medicine is only available at Misrata Hospital, about 40 km away from Tawergha. Usually, we go to Misrata to buy the medicine.” But the journey is dangerous, especially at night. “The security situation has forced us to stop his treatment for several months ... which negatively affects Moftah’s health, since he needs three doses day.”

Large parts of Tawergha were destroyed during hostilities between Misratan and Tawerghan armed groups in 2011. Most of Tawergha’s residents – some 40,000 people – were forced to flee to various parts of the country, with the majority going to Tripoli. A reconciliation agreement signed in 2018 opened the door for the voluntary return of Tawerghans to their homes. However, many former residents say they do not intend to return until key infrastructure and public services, such as water, sewage and electricity, are restored.

In early December, a UN delegation, led by the Humanitarian Coordinator for Libya, Yacoub El Hillo, visited Misrata and Tawergha in north-west Libya.

During his visit to Tawergha, Mr. El Hillo underlined the importance of building on the reconciliation agreement and restoring services, demonstrating tangible progress to support voluntary returns.

“We hope that this reconciliation will form a nucleus for reconciliation nationwide,” he said. “For the United Nations, the real work begins now. We must focus on improving the living conditions for those who choose to return to their homes.”

In spite of the overcrowded classrooms and harsh living conditions, Tawergha students are optimistic and hopeful for a better future. credit: OCHA/Intisar Alqsar

Misrata

Misrata saw months of intensive fighting in 2011. A blockade of the city left residents short of food, water, medical and other essential supplies. As one of the country’s economic hubs, Misrata has since become a centre for hosting internally displaced persons (IDPs) from across the country.

The city’s population is 400,000, which includes 37,000 IDPs. Humanitarian assistance was provided to 42 per cent of the IDPs in Misrata as of November this year. However, the IDP population places a considerable strain on local services.

During the Humanitarian Coordinator’s visit to Misrata, a shortage of medicines and specialized medical care, such as obstetric and gynaecological services, as well as overcrowding in schools and inadequate waste management, were highlighted as particular areas of concern.

Municipal council members also conveyed the need for mental health and psychosocial support services. They mentioned that they have more than 20,000 registered post-traumatic care cases in Misrata alone. "The state’s neglect of this group and the lack of attention and specialized centres have pushed these patients to resort to drugs,” said a member of the municipal council.


Um Muhammad with her grandaughters in their house, which still needs repairs. The family returned to their home following the reconciliation agreement. Credit: OCHA/Intisar Alqsar

Mr. El Hillo also met with representatives of the displaced community from the eastern city of Derna. Of the 1,200 families displaced from Derna in 2011, about 250 families (about 1,200 people) settled in Misrata.

“We fled our homes after being threatened with physical assault. We could no longer tolerate the abuses and violations committed by the forces controlling the city,” said one of the IDPs, who declined to be named for security reasons. "Some women have been arrested to put pressure on us. Our bank accounts have been seized, our houses have been looted, some of our relatives have been kidnapped, tortured and killed. Returning to our homes is impossible for us in the foreseeable future."

The IDPs thanked the people of Misrata for hosting them but called on national authorities to do more to address their needs. “We need services to be provided to us in places of displacement, not for Derna people who are displaced within the city only.”

At the end of the two days’ visit, Mr. El Hillo concluded that “the largest humanitarian operation in Libya is carried out by the Libyans themselves. We hope that this mission will further open the doors of cooperation between Libyan municipalities and the United Nations, which can play a facilitating role between local and central governments in Libya.”

While Libya is considered an upper middle-income country, more than eight years of instability and insecurity have taken their toll on the well-being of many children, women and men in Libya. The humanitarian situation is increasingly complex. Spikes in violence – including the Tripoli clashes since April and clashes in Murzuq in August – drive civilian casualties and displacement.

Approximately 897,000 Libyans are estimated to be in need of humanitarian assistance in 2020, a figure that could increase if armed fighting escalates and displacement continues.