Press Conference on Humanitarian Situation in Libya

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As fighting continued to rage in Libya, top humanitarian priorities there were bringing about at least a temporary ceasefire and acquiring additional civilian assistance for the aid effort, a United Nations humanitarian official said this afternoon.

“We have to agree on a mechanism for a temporary ceasefire to allow people to flee and get in necessary supplies,” Philippe Lazzarini, Deputy Director of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), told correspondents at a Headquarters press conference.

Confirming that the situation on the ground was extremely worrying with daily accounts of deaths and growing humanitarian needs, he said that the additional civilian assets were needed to reinforce organizations that were already on the ground. Some 15,000 foreign nationals were still stranded at the Egyptian and Tunisian borders and others needed to be evacuated, he added, in addition to meeting the needs of Libyans caught in the fighting.

He said that the situation in the western city of Misrata was particularly worrisome after five weeks of being under attack and with an inadequate possibility for re-supply, although a few ships have been able to dock there without a military escort, following notification of both sides and coalition forces through a contact system that had been set up.

Late last week, a boat laden with medical supplies and food from the International Committee of the Red Cross arrived in Misrata, he said, with other ships reaching the country from Egypt and Turkey, along with those from the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the World Food Programme (WFP) the World Health Organization (WHO), Médecins sans Frontières and others that have been reported.

Some 500,000 people had now left the country, he said, out of a population of 2.5 million. In Misrata itself, he said, over 100,000 more people want to be evacuated. In Benghazi, he said, the humanitarian mission was in regular contact with the city’s authorities. He hoped there would soon be an additional humanitarian presence in other areas.

In response to questions, he specified that Tripoli and Benghazi authorities were systematically notified about the arrival of humanitarian shipments. The Tripoli contacts included the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Prime Minister’s Office and, in Benghazi, members of the council there.

Asked if the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs had contacted the European Union in response to its expressed willingness to send a mission to Libya in support of humanitarian efforts, Mr. Lazzarini said that, although more civilian help was needed for evacuations and aid logistics, no military assets had been requested. Martin Nesirky, the spokesperson of the Secretary-General, added that the Secretary-General planned to speak with the Union’s high representative for foreign affairs and security policy, Catherine Ashton, about the offer next week.

In response to a final question, he said that the overall Flash Appeal for the Libyan Crisis of some $300 million was around 40 per cent funded. Much aid up to the present had been used for the evacuation of foreigners, he added.

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