By Michelle McQuigge
A Canadian man who tried to organize an aid shipment to relatives stranded in a conflict-ridden area of Libya says he recently found out most of his family members had died during his fruitless efforts to send them food and water.
Ali Hamza of Mississauga, Ont., had flown to Turkey with his wife and children last month in a bid to mobilize relief efforts for the residents of Ganfouda, a militant-controlled neighbourhood in the city of Benghazi that has been besieged by Libyan army troops that answer to a powerful commander.
Amnesty International has raised the alarm over the situation in Ganfouda, saying residents had been trapped there for months with dwindling food and fuel supplies.
Hamza spent nearly a month in Turkey attempting to partner with an NGO to send in a delivery of food and water, but the precarious security situation kept the aid shipment on the ground.
Two weeks ago, Hamza says he got the devastating news that five of the six family members he was trying to help had died.
He says one brother and one sister died on Feb. 25 during a bombing attack in Ganfouda that he learned of later, adding they had been living on tree bark and rain water in the weeks before their deaths.
On Mar. 18, Hamza says his elderly mother and three remaining siblings boarded a bus in a bid to flee to a safer part of Benghazi, only to be ambushed on their way out. His mother, a brother and a sister all died, he said, adding only one sister survived and is being detained.
Hamza said the news came as a crushing end to an already upsetting trip.
“In the plane, maybe three times I cried very loud,” he said of the return journey from Turkey. “We lost family. We lost the grandmother of our children, we lost uncles and aunts.”
Hamza had called on the Canadian government to take a more active role in providing aid and support to Ganfouda and expressed disappointment at the lack of strong public statements from Ottawa on the plight of those stranded in the area.
Libya has been beset by violence and chaos since the ouster and death of longtime strongman Moammar Gadhafi in a 2011 civil war.
Despite a UN-brokered peace deal reached a year ago, Libya remains divided between east and west, with no effective government and rival factions and militias — each side with backing from different foreign countries.
Last month, Hamza borrowed money and put the family SUV up for sale in order to finance an aid shipment to 30 families. By working in partnership with the Turkish NGO known as the IHH Humanitarian Relief Foundation, he hoped to provide them with food, water and basic medication for at least 10 days.
But Hamza said the NGO never received clearance to deliver the shipment due to ongoing security risks on the ground in Benghazi.
He said he was unaware that his family members were dying during the wait until receiving word through other aid groups on March 19, the day after the bus carrying most of his surviving relatives was ambushed by forces Hamza alleged answered to a military commander.
In the aftermath of the losses, Hamza said he still feels intense disappointment in the federal government as he feels it reneged on its international obligations to provide aid and comfort to those in need.
“They never considered us or those who are there as worthy of defending and standing with. So condolences from them … are rejected.”
Global Affairs Canada did not immediately respond to request for comment. It has said previously, however, that Canada is “deeply concerned” with the ongoing armed conflict in Libya and its humanitarian impact on civilians, including in the district of Ganfouda.
Michelle McQuigge – Reporter for the Canadian Press. Cohost of Open Dialogue.