Aid workers struggle to stem Misrata's misery

British medics and aid workers are part of a major operation trying to stem the human misery in Misrata, with two more ships carrying vital supplies due to dock today.

Reports from Libya's third-largest city have painted an increasingly desperate picture of a population under siege with children among those killed and wounded by relentless bombing. "Misrata's residents are now feeling very scared. They can neither find safety in the city, nor can they leave. They are trapped and remain prey to the ongoing rain of indiscriminate explosives being fired at their neighbourhoods by the Libyan leader's forces," said Donatella Rovera, one of two Amnesty International UK researchers documenting human rights abuses in the country.

"The question on virtually everyone's lips is the same one – where is the international community and why is it not doing anything to provide the protection that it promised... to the vulnerable and increasingly desperate inhabitants of Misrata?"

Last night, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) said they were hoping to get ships carrying vital supplies into Misrata today to rescue refugees and migrant workers. On Monday, the Department for International Development (DfID) pledged a further £2m on top of a previous £11m to help with the evacuation and provision of medical supplies.

The IOM, which has already sent two ships to pull out 2,200 people, taking them to Benghazi and then by road to Salum, estimated that a further 5,000 people needed rescuing from Misrata but said it was running out of funds to help tens of thousands of other people stranded in eastern Libya, Tripoli and on the borders. It was hoping to get a third ship in today to help the migrants who have been camping around the port since the early days of the conflict with little food or clean water, a spokesman said.

"The lack of sanitation and the severe health risks it poses, as well as the constant shelling and firing are the biggest risks to their lives," said the IOM's Jeremy Haslam, who has been leading the operation. "Food support for the migrants from the Libyan community has diminished over time as resources in the city in general have dried up. We need to reach them fast as they cannot bear up much longer."

Last night the Red Cross said it also had another ship due to dock in Misrata today, having evacuated 618 people on Monday to take them to Egypt via Tobruk. "These people had been stranded in dire conditions for several weeks, without proper shelter or sanitation. They had to cope with poor hygiene and were exposed to danger owing to the fighting in the city," said Javier Cepero Garcia, an ICRC delegate who is leading the evacuation.