As tens of thousands flee into Egypt and Tunisia to escape the escalating conflict in Libya, UNICEF is sending relief supplies to help meet the immediate needs of women and children at risk. In support of this emergency effort, the organization is appealing for $7.2 million in additional funding.
VIDEO: 3 March 2011 – UNICEF correspondent Anja Baron reports on the crisis at the Tunisia-Libya border as tens of thousands flee conflict inside Libya.
UNICEF issued the donor appeal yesterday, in the form of an immediate-needs document, in response to the violence inside Libya and the threat of a larger humanitarian crisis.
Charter flights are expected to reach Egypt and Tunisia this week carrying more than 160 metric tonnes of UNICEF aid, including hygiene kits, food and recreational supplies for affected children. UNICEF Director of Emergency Programmes Louis-Georges Arsenault is in Tunisia to help coordinate efforts with other aid agencies and get a better view of the situation on the ground.
“There is a real jam at the border,” said Mr. Arsenault. “A few days ago, they were staying at the border for four hours before they were starting to move on. Now it’s four days. There’s a lot of tension.”
Effects of violence
UNICEF staff from both neighbouring countries have already been deployed to border areas in order to assess the needs of those who are fleeing Libya and provide them with assistance – working in tandem with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, the International Organization for Migration, and the Egyptian and Tunisian Red Crescent Societies.
Meanwhile, a 14-member immediate-response team has been assembled and is standing by for deployment to Libya as soon as the security situation allows. In preparation for future humanitarian efforts, UNICEF is also contacting partners within Libya, including the Libyan National Red Crescent.
The aid effort comes amidst deep concern over reports that children and adolescents have been killed or injured in violence that is affecting countries in the Middle East and North Africa. UNICEF has expressed particular alarm about the safety of women and children in Libya.
“No child should be exposed to any form of danger, as this could have a long-lasting effect on their survival or psychological well-being,” said UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake.
Protecting vulnerable children
The first wave out of Libya has consisted mostly of men – primarily returning Egyptian and Tunisian nationals or third-country migrant workers. As the conflict continues, however, a higher proportion of vulnerable women and children may be affected.
UNICEF has urged all parties to place the highest priority on protecting children and ensuring that any refugee children and families have access to emergency relief, protection and psycho-social support.
There are not yet confirmed reports of large-scale humanitarian needs within Libya, but as the conflict wears on, there are growing concerns over the availability of medical care for the injured, as well as Libyans’ access to basic services and commodities. While details of the situation in the country remain sketchy, indications so far are deeply worrying for UNICEF and other advocates of children’s rights