Libyan children under increasing threat as fighting continues

It was the screams that made Mr Mohamed jump. Shrieks and cries had become frighteningly familiar for those living in the western Libyan city of Misrata, but this was a singular scream. This was Mr Mohamed’s son. Field report from UNICEF Communication Specialist James Elder, in Benghazi.

He ran to the roof where nine-year-old Mufteh had been playing. His son had his hands across his face, but the damage was palpable. “There was so much blood on my son,” says Mr Mohamed. “The first thing I did was to get him off the roof, and then I just held him in my arms.”

The hours leading up to the explosion had been quiet, but shrapnel from what Mr Mohamed thinks was a mortar had exploded nearby and now littered his son’s body. His face appeared the worst affected. The family lived near main functioning clinic in Misrata, but the shelling was now steady. “I had no choice – I had to get him help. I carried him to the hospital, but there was much shelling.”

Mufteh has since been evacuated by boat to opposition-held Benghazi – a 20hour journey. He had internal bleeding, a broken jaw and shrapnel wounds around his face and neck. “My son was just playing. How can this happen to a boy when he is playing fun games?” Deplorably, it is occurring repeatedly in Misrata and other areas in Libya. Over the past several days in Misrata, medical staff has reported at least 40 civilians killed, including a Ukrainian doctor and two photographers, with hundreds injured.

Meanwhile, ever-intensifying hostilities in the last 72hours in Libya’s western mountains have displaced thousands more families. Heavy fighting has raged around the towns of Zintan, Nalut and Qalaa, increasing the risk and trauma for children.

Half a million Libyans have fled their homes since the conflict began in February. Some have left with what they can pack into a car; others with what they can carry in a sprint. UNICEF is supplying emergency surgical materials, obstetric surgical kits, midwifery, hygiene and first aid kits, drinking water, water purification tablets, and recreational toys for children. Additional supplies have been provided on the Tunisian and Egyptian borders to meet the needs of those fleeing fighting. While many are migrant workers, more and more Libyans are also crossing the borders seeking safety.

Back in Benghazi, Mufteh is preparing for the first of his operations. Well-wishers have brought him some gifts, though his injuries don’t allow him to smile. Soon he will join many other children for whom UNICEF has also been providing psychological support in the East. “He was so brave, but in so much pain,” says his father. “I think he may have some problems later, but he is alive. We were lucky.”  It just doesn’t look that way.

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