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Libya: "We can't get in and the wounded can't get out"
Interview with Ivan Gayton, MSF emergency coordinator in Ras Ajdir on the Tunisia-Libya border
There have been reports of a humanitarian crisis on the Tunisian side of the border, can you confirm?
Although people fleeing from Libya are going through a very difficult situation, at this moment, we cannot talk about a humanitarian crisis on the Tunisian-side of border as such. This is thanks to the admirable response offered by the Tunisian civil society and the authorities who have been working hard to meet the needs.
As of 3rd March, 91,000 people, the majority of which are migrant workers coming from Egypt or Tunisia, but also from other African & Asian countries, had crossed the border. These people tend to be healthy men, and medical teams have seen no serious health concerns among them.
However, this massive influx of people is putting increasing pressure on transit camps and the situation is very fragile. If the number of people crossing the border continues to increase, the camps’ capacity risks reaching saturation point.
There have been strong efforts to make the outflow of people repatriated to their country keep pace with the inflow of people crossing the border. Tunisia has been responding to the massive influx of people with astonishing generosity. We have seen hundreds of Tunisians carrying private donations of food, water, blankets, firewood, and other materials.
We continue to closely monitor the situation, in case a medical-humanitarian intervention is required. MSF’s experience tells us that even if the situation is under control now, it does not mean that we should not be prepared for every possible scenario.
Do you have any information on the humanitarian situation on the Libyan side?
Our team, deployed here in Ras Ajdir on the western border with Tunisia, is ready to cross with medical material but we are denied access into Libya, while the wounded are reportedly not allowed out. Our priority is to gain immediate access to this population.
Contacts with medical staff inside Libya tell us that they have wounded patients and lack supplies and drugs. The main pathology we are hearing about is trauma. We are in a deeply worrying situation where the wounded are apparently blocked on one side of the Libyan border, and medical staff and supplies are blocked on the other.
The MSF teams, both at the Tunisian border and in eastern Libya, are investigating all possibilities to reach people affected by violence inside Libya.
Which activities has MSF started on the Tunisian-side of the border?
Our team is conducting medical consultations, in collaboration with the Tunisian health services and Red Crescent which have been coping well with the situation.
Until now, we have seen no severe pathologies amongst people crossing the border - most of them suffering from cold, headache, and stomachache. We are monitoring the situation, but, at the moment it is very much under control.
We have detected the need to immediately implement a mental health programme, after speaking with migrants in transit as well as other humanitarian actors on the ground. Many of the people having crossed the border have witnessed or themselves undergone various levels and forms of violence whilst in Libya. They are now waiting to return to their home countries and face great uncertainty in their immediate future, which is an additional important stress factor. For this reason, we are starting a mental healthcare programme, providing psychological consultations to patients referred to us by doctors at the border.
Since the onset of violent clashes in Libya in mid-February, MSF has been able to reach the town of Benghazi, in the eastern part of Libya, where the team is supporting medical facilities and trying to access areas currently affected by violence to treat the wounded. Another MSF team has been deployed in Ras Ajdir, on the western border with Tunisia, ready to cross into Libya with medical material. However, the team is being denied access into Libya, while the wounded are reportedly not allowed out. MSF’s priority is to gain immediate access to this population. Meanwhile, thousands of people, the vast majority of them non-Libyans fleeing the country, are waiting for repatriation to their respective countries. At the Tunisia-Libya border, MSF has identified the need to provide mental health care.