Tonight is my last night in the region. I leave Cairo for my home in Washington tomorrow. And this weekend, as I sit with my morning papers in my comfortable chair and read about events in Libya, they will once again seem very far away.
But events that are far away are not necessarily forgotten. And it would be impossible for me to forget all that I have seen and heard of the humanitarian crisis that is unfolding here.
Admittedly, it is very hard to know exactly what is happening throughout Libya right now from a humanitarian perspective. There are just too few observers on the ground in too few places. And having spent just one day in the country myself, I am hardly in a position to provide much evidence.
But I have spoken with people who have been inside Libya for a lot longer than my 24 hours. And the stories they tell are deeply concerning.
Medical services in many parts of the east of the country are desperate. There are very few doctors and nurses left who can look after trauma cases – essential during any time of conflict. There is also a shortage of many essential medicines – including anesthesia.
Out of western Libya, we are hearing stories that are even more disturbing. We have been told that doctors are being killed by snipers, and blood banks are being destroyed. We have also heard that patients have been taken from hospitals, and forces loyal to Colonel Gaddafi have been going door to door to find the wounded – the implication being that wounded people are a testament to a campaign of violence that the regime denies is taking place.
These stories seem to be borne out by the fact that almost no injured people have crossed the western border into Tunisia. When we were on that border last week, we were told that of the tens of thousands who had come across, only two of them were wounded.
There are also the reports of what is happening to the sub-Saharan Africans still inside Libya. Those we spoke to who had managed to escape told stories of targeted attacks and killings. And there may be tens of thousands more still trapped inside Libya who aren’t moving because of fear.
As I said, it is impossible for me to say for certain if all of the stories we have been told are accurate. But added together they paint a picture of a very dire situation facing those inside Libya.
There are always reasonable questions to be raised around any foreign military intervention into another country. And Refugees International continues to call on all sides to respect international law and prioritize the protection of civilians.
But anyone who argues that there is not a humanitarian imperative for the international community to act should come here and listen to the stories that I have been hearing for the last eleven days.
I suspect they might change their mind.
March 24, 2011
| Tagged as: Africa, Libya, Humanitarian Response, Middle East