By Hala Abu Khatwa
SALLOUM, Egypt, 4 April 2011 – Escaping the crisis in Libya, tens of thousands of families have been arriving at the Salloum crossing on the Egypt-Libya border. Some have been travelling for days with little food and water as they struggle to head back to their countries of origin.
"I left my home, my belongings, my car, I left everything behind, for the sake of my kids," said Hanan Salah, a Palestinian who has lived in Libya most of her life. Ms. Salah was stranded with her husband and two children at the Salloum border crossing for 22 days before she made it back to Gaza to be reunited with her extended family.
Children have also been revealing the fears that forced them to flee Libya. Mariam Hakim, 8, had been living near Benghazi with her parents, five sisters and one brother. They are now heading back home to Chad to escape the threat of killings.
"There was a problem," Mariam said. "The problem is that they come to houses and shoot and this is why we came to Egypt," she said.
To assist these families in their long journey, UNICEF has redeployed staff and humanitarian relief supplies in Egypt to provide support, especially in the areas of child protection, water and sanitation, health and nutrition.
"UNICEF and the humanitarian community remain extremely concerned by the situation inside Libya and the impact of on-going hostilities on women and children," said UNICEF Representative in Egypt Philippe Duamelle.
He added that teams on the ground are monitoring and coordinating with national authorities and other partners at the border to ensure particular attention is given to the rights and immediate needs of displaced women and children.
At the Salloum border crossing, UNICEF has successfully advocated for space to be designated for displaced families and established a child-friendly space where young children and their mothers receive psycho-social support, and engage in developmental activities conducted by trained facilitators.
"The objective of the activities is to let the children express their feelings and also have some fun time and learning time, whereby they can still develop their cognitive, social and psychological skills, while in this difficult situation," said UNICEF Education Officer Amira Fouad.
Fresh water is also being brought daily by truck to the site. UNICEF is supplying sanitation facilities and is ensuring that the site is maintained and kept clean.
UNICEF Emergency Specialist Toby Wicks said thousands are at the crossing. "Their needs are evident, particularly in terms of sanitation, food and water," he added.
Hygiene kits have been distributed to families, and messages on health, nutrition, water and sanitation have been printed in Arabic, English and French, and posted in the dedicated family spaces.
In addition, emergency health kits covering the needs of 60,000 people for a month – as well as specialized trauma and surgery medical equipment for about 4,500 people – have been sent by UNICEF, in partnership with International Medical Corps.
Bolstered supplies of hygiene and early childhood development kits will be sent to the border shortly.