UK to aid Libya evacuations

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The Independent Online

The Government will help 5,000 people escape the besieged rebel-held town of Misrata and provide vital medical supplies to those caught up in violence across western Libya, International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell announced today.

Speaking before talks with United Nations aid bodies in New York, Mr Mitchell said the emergency evacuations would aim to get foreign workers who had managed to reach Misrata docks safely out of the town.

The evacuations will be carried out by the International Organisation for Migration (IOM).

Britain will also fund critical medical aid, to be provided by the International Medical Corps (IMC), for civilians in towns across western Libya.

Mr Mitchell said: "I am determined that Britain continues to provide help to those innocent civilians who are caught up in the ongoing violence.

"Thousands of foreign workers have managed to reach the port but find themselves at terrible risk from incoming fire, with no way to get out.

"These evacuations will take them to safety and help reduce the demand in Misrata for the very limited supplies of food, water and medical supplies available."

He added: "In conflict-affected areas across western Libya, there's a shortage of doctors - most have no training in war surgery - few nurses, overwhelmed staff, and weak or non-existent post-operative care.

"British support will mean medical supplies and highly-trained teams get into the worse-hit areas, which could mean the difference between life and death for many people."

Tens of thousands of people are trapped in Misrata and other towns following more than a month of fighting which has killed at least 300 and injured more than 1,000, including many children.

Some severely injured people are unable to be evacuated for medical attention, hospitals lack electricity and water and people have been trapped indoors for weeks with little or no food.

The United Nations is concerned that consumption of untreated water from wells could lead to outbreaks of water-borne diseases.

Mr Mitchell said the IMC would send in volunteer surgical and trauma teams to medical facilities, and provide medical supplies including antibiotics and analgesics, bandages and first aid kits and surgical equipment.

The IMC will also provide emergency evacuations for the most severely sick and injured to Benghazi and areas outside Libya if necessary, he said.

Mr Mitchell was in New York to meet leading UN bodies, including Unicef, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs, to discuss the deteriorating humanitarian situation.

IMC vice president for international operations Rabih Torbay said: "Britain's support for the International Medical Corps programme in Libya has been provided at a critical time and will enable life-saving emergency medical care and supplies to be delivered to the most vulnerable populations in Libya.

"Our doctors estimate that they will be able to provide life-saving care to at least 30 severely wounded people a day, and provide essential health care to hundreds more on a daily basis."

Britain has already sent aid to affected areas as well as emergency shelters, medical supplies, food and enough midwifery kits to deliver 200 babies.

Donatella Rovera, a researcher for Amnesty International UK, arrived in Misrata on Thursday and said thousands of aid workers and civilians are stranded and under fire.

"Shelling is happening all around me," she said.

"There is very little help coming in and there is no way for the people of Misrata to get out of here. They are stuck. There are only a few boats arriving, which can only take away a few of the most injured patients.

"It is so dangerous here, it is so unsafe. There is some aid getting through, some food and medicine, but it is not enough.

"The only water we have is distributed through water tankers and the electricity we have is coming through generators. It's just not sustainable."

The Chief of the Defence Staff's spokesman, Major General John Lorimer, said: "Nato's Operation Unified Protector, to enforce UN Security Council Resolution 1973 and to protect Libyan civilians, saw further air operations over the weekend.

"RAF Tornado GR4 and Typhoon aircraft successfully engaged five vehicles in the Misrata and Ajdabiya areas, including three main battle tanks, using precision guided munitions."