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Red Cross Responds in North Africa as Tens of Thousands Seek Humanitarian Assistance During Prolonged Unrest


The global Red Cross and Red Crescent network is collectively responding to help people injured or displaced by the escalating unrest in Libya.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) along with the Libyan, Egyptian and Tunisian Red Crescent societies and other Red Cross partners are sending doctors and other staff into the area amidst growing concerns of deteriorating conditions within major cities and along the borders with Tunisia and Egypt.

"The reports we're getting indicate that the humanitarian situation inside Libya is worsening by the hour," said Dominik Stillhart, the ICRC's deputy director of operations. "We're very concerned about the growing number of people who are leaving their homes in search of safety and trying to cross the border."

The American Red Cross will contribute an initial $100,000 from its International Response Fund to help the ICRC ensure emergency aid for people who have fled Libya.The American Red Cross also deployed two, highly-skilled specialists to Tunisia to support these efforts as well as to assess the evolving situation.

Other Red Cross and Red Crescent organizations are dispatching emergency shelter and relief items to be distributed at different points on the border with Tunisia and Egypt

As of February 27, authorities estimated that approximately 40,000 people had crossed the border from Libya into Tunisia, whilst reports of those who have crossed the Egyptian border, mainly Egyptians, indicated 60,000. In both situations those fleeing the unrest are mostly Egyptian and Tunisian nationals but also include others from Libya, China, Southeast Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.

In response to medical needs, Libyan Red Crescent staff and volunteers have been collecting blood, evacuating the wounded and working in the hospitals themselves in recent days.

Local health workers in Benghazi, a city in eastern Libya, told the ICRC the city's main hospitals were short of nurses because the bulk of their staff are foreigners who had been evacuated by their embassies.

"We're here to support the Libyan Red Crescent, who have been doing an excellent job over the past week responding to the violence," said Simon Brooks, the ICRC's team leader in Benghazi. "We hear that surgeons and orthopedic specialists are needed in Benghazi's hospitals, as well as medicine for patients suffering from chronic illnesses. Our initial assessment is that there is no urgent need for food supplies. It's difficult to know, however, what the needs are outside the city."

To help address the staff shortage, a medical team from the ICRC and the Norwegian Red Cross crossed into Libya from Egypt on Sunday afternoon. The group, made up of two surgeons, a doctor and two nurses, will begin working in support of local health-care personnel. Truckloads of medical supplies are also due to arrive in Libya from Cairo on Tuesday.

Additionally, a team of ICRC and Finnish Red Cross doctors planned to travel from Tunis to the border Monday to help meet the medical needs of people fleeing from Libya into Tunisia.

Despite the relative calm in the east, the ICRC is very concerned about the situation from a humanitarian viewpoint in the west of the country, where the organization has not yet been able to send delegates.

"We're trying to get a clearer picture of the conditions and needs throughout the country, including in and around Tripoli, but information is scarce," said Georgios Georgantas, who is in charge of coordinating ICRC relief efforts in Libya and neighboring countries at the organization's headquarters in Geneva. "Our colleagues in Tunisia tell us that the arrival of tens of thousands of displaced people along the border is putting a strain on local infrastructure and that the need for basic services, such as sanitation facilities, is likely to increase as the numbers continue to rise."

ICRC experts also have been sent to both the borders to help people get in touch with their families. The ICRC in Tunisia said it had helped around 200 people contact their loved ones over the weekend.

As the situation evolves, the American Red Cross remains in daily communication with its Red Cross and Red Crescent partners in the region and stands ready to provide additional assistance if needed.