With the first case of COVID-19 now confirmed in Libya, the IRC is warning that an outbreak of the disease could have a devastating impact on the country, where conflict continues to tear people’s lives apart.
Despite the disease having been declared a global pandemic, there is no sign of a ceasefire in sight and hostilities escalated dramatically in recent days.
Just two days ago, four civilians were killed as the LNA renewed attacks in Tripoli after repeated calls from the international community to halt hostilities.
As a result of the ongoing conflict, Libya’s health system is severely challenged to meet the needs of all within Libya’s borders. 1.7 million people are already in extreme need of health assistance.
Tom Garofalo, Country Director for the IRC in Libya, said:
“Since April last year there have been 62 confirmed attacks on health facilities and almost one fifth of Libyan hospitals and primary health facilities are closed.
Those that remain open suffer from a lack of specialised medical staff and a properly functioning medical supply chain. Only six per cent are able to offer a full range of services, meaning that the country is ill-prepared for an outbreak of the magnitude of COVID-19.
“Close to 150,000 people have been forced to flee their homes over the past 11 months, but in total almost 900,000 are in need of humanitarian assistance.
In addition to Libyans who have been displaced from their homes, migrants and refugees are among the most vulnerable. Around 3,200 are being held in overcrowded detention centres, but the majority live in poor conditions in towns and cities where they are under the constant threat of robbery, abduction, detention and abuse.
As a result, many live in the shadows and 80 per cent are unable to access health care. This means there is a huge barrier to some of the country’s most vulnerable people being aware of how to protect themselves from a disease that has already had such dire consequences in other countries.
“With essential equipment already in short supply around the globe, and with Libya’s health system already so fragile, the international community must not turn its back on Libya.
Libyan public health officials are scrambling to prepare for the COVID-19 outbreak in the country, and have allocated USD 350 million to support the response.
But with such vast vulnerability in the population, they risk being overwhelmed, perhaps worse than we’ve seen in other contexts.
The IRC will do our best to support the Libyan response with training of front-line health workers and help with isolation facilities, but we urgently need a ceasefire so that humanitarian actors can adapt and scale-up their response further.”
It is critical that the EU and member states maintain diplomatic engagement to secure progress towards a ceasefire. The EU and all donors must also ensure flexible funding is provided to adequately support the struggling Libyan health system and to ensure the Covid response is rapidly scaled up and reaches those most in need.
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:
(a) providing critical healthcare in hard to reach places in western Libya,
(b) providing life-saving medicines to primary health clinics, where possible,
(c) providing a referral pathway for patients in urgent need,
(d) renovating primary health clinics which have been damaged during the civil war,
(e) deploying experienced social workers to provide case management and psychosocial support in communities impacted by the conflict.
If Coronavirus Hits Libyan Detention Centers It Would be a ‘Massacre’
By Salem Solomon
While much of the world is under orders to practice social distancing to slow the spread of coronavirus, there are certain places where such distance is impossible.
Overcrowded migrant detention centers, particularly those in Libya, are among the places most at risk for an outbreak.
With dozens of people sharing a room and little access to running water, these makeshift centers can be a breeding ground for disease in normal times.
A highly contagious airborne virus like coronavirus could spread at lightning speed, say experts.
“Once coronavirus will spread in these detention centers, we are going to witness a massacre,” Giulia Tranchina, a human rights lawyer based in London who represents asylum seekers, told VOA.
Tranchina said most of the camps in Libya are former animal stables or hangars where migrants must sleep on the floor or on mattresses packed tightly together.
She cited the example of the Dhar El-Jebel detention camp in the mountains south of Tripoli, where 22 migrants died in one year.
“Because of the lack of food, water sanitation and lack of any medical care, so they all died of tuberculosis and starvation,” said Tranchina, who is in direct contact with some of the refugees in Libya.
“So, we can imagine what will happen once coronavirus will spread in these detention centers.”
‘Torture camps run by traffickers’
Figures about how many migrants are in Libya are difficult to come by. A study by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) estimated there are between 700,000 and 1 million migrants in the country.
The U.N. estimated there are about 3,000 refugees and migrants in detention centers. Tranchina said the official numbers do not tell the whole story.
Many migrants are held in even worse conditions than those in the official centers and are unaccounted for. “There are a lot of detention centers run by the militias and the [opposition] forces in the territories that they control,” she said.
“And then there are hundreds of torture camps run by traffickers who are torturing people for ransom, raping them and enslaving them for many years. And we have no access to these people. No U.N. agency has access to these people.”
Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) is one organization on the ground giving medical care to migrants. But they are unable to meet the overwhelming need.
In May 2019, doctors visited the Dhar El-Jebel detention center and called the conditions “catastrophic” saying the tuberculosis outbreak had been raging for months without treatment.
“We’ve been calling repeatedly and continuously for the closure of these detention centers and the end of arbitrary detention,” Sacha Petiot, MSF head of mission in Libya told VOA.
Petiot said a lasting solution would require an opening of temporary shelters where migrants could be safe. He also said there must be agreements by safe, third-party countries to resettle the migrants. To date, such agreements have been hard to get.
“For the moment, these resettlement slots in the European and Western countries are very limited. We’re talking about 2,000 slots on average by the year,” Petiot said.
“While the general population of registered refugees and asylum seekers is over 46,000, which means that there is a huge lag. There is a bottleneck.”
Salem Solomon – Multimedia Editor and Reporter.