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“Across the border the roads were dark and completely deserted, there wasn’t a single vehicle anywhere, the weather was very cold, we heard two or three explosions and saw flashes of light in the distance, it was a very frightening experience,” explained HCI’s team member, Mouslem, who accompanied HCI’s first shipment of relief supplies into Libya. Mouslem, was among the tree-member team of HCI, along with several other volunteers, who decided to risk their lives and cross into Libya on the night of Saturday March the 18th, a day after the UN resolution no-fly zone was imposed and only few hours before the first strikes of the coalition forces reached Libya. “Despite the fact that we were warned at the border that the situation was very unpredictable, the thought that thousands of children in Libya were not able to access food made crossing into Libya a risk worth taking,” Mouslem stated emotionally.
HCI’s first convoy of relief supplies included food items. The decision to send food items was made after consultation with several aid agencies already on the ground in Libya such as Arab Medical Union and Medecin Sans Frontiers (MSF) personnel who had concluded a fact finding mission in the east of Libya just two days before HCI’s aid supplies were prepared. They concluded that despite the fact that there is a shortage of medical staff and drugs inside hospitals in Libya, at the moment food is what is more urgently needed, especially in the eastern parts of the country, thus the decision was made that HCI would make food items a priority in the shipment they were planning to send and within a day a shipment of essential food items including rice, pasta, and flour was prepared in Cairo and sent to the border where, it arrived there around mid day Saturday, just one day after a no-fly zone resolution was passed by the UN Security Council.
“We were on the border the day Benghazi witnessed the first direct attack by regime forces. And on that very day the country was awaiting the first strike by the coalition forces against the regime forces who were trying to enter Benghazi,” Mouslem explained.
HCI’s personnel in Cairo and Beirut were continuously in touch over the phone with the convoy, updating them about the evolving news coming from behind the border. That day the border witnessed the largest number of refugees, particularly Libyans from Benghazi fleeing the country. The border was totally overwhelmed by the large number of refugees that day; the majority were Libyans, but there were also significant numbers of Sudanese and Somali nationals trying to flee the country, finding themselves stranded at the border with no money, shelter or food, particularly the Somalis who fled their civil war-torn country to come to Libya and now cannot go back.
“I have been to this border many times before, but it had never looked like that before; car parks were filled with makeshift beds, trees became washing lines and every corner of the place had become a shelter. It was as if the border had become one big open air house” said Abu Khaled, the truck driver.
“Although we were planning to directly cross the border into Libya, we had to help the aid workers who were overwhelmed with refugees that day. We joined the Egyptian Red Crescent personnel and other aid agencies present at the border and started to distribute meals and food to the refugees in need. Many of them were dehydrated,” recounted Ahmed, another of HCI’s team members.
Around 6000 meals and water portions were distributed on that day at the border by aid agencies, including HCI.
In the mean time, the team was in touch with the team in Cairo and the regional office in Lebanon for feedback, and after much consideration the team in the field decided to proceed and enter Libya overnight risking their lives.
“We couldn’t wait further. The stories we heard at the border from fleeing families were shocking. We had to transport the relief items into Libya. The quantity may be very little and may not reach everyone in need, but they may help reducing the suffering of some of the women, children and elders in need, stranded and/or displaced inside Libya. So we took the decision, wrapped ourselves up in blankets and headed onwards,” added Ahmed.
HCI’s convoy crossed after dusk. The convoy’s first stop in Libya was at the Mesa’aad hospital, where two tribal leaders and several local aid workers were waiting them.
“Hand in hand we unloaded the trucks until the early hours of the morning. Even a young child tried to help us, despite the fact that we insisted he shouldn’t. Explosions and flashes of light, which were probably the strikes of the coalition forces on the advancing regime forces were heard and seen in the distance” Mouslem recounted. The relief supplies were then loaded on Libyan-plated trucks, each to a different destination, but all headed west of the Mesa’aad towards stranded towns in the Eastern part of the country.
This was the first shipment of relief aid into the country. HCI’s relief aid has been trying to reach the increasing number of internally displaced people in several areas around the country, such us the 20,000 people who have been taking refuge in the small town of Albethnan, east of Ajdabiya, for over two weeks. Some 5,000 people are displaced in the coastal town of Derna also. The growing phenomenon of IDPs is adding to the already dire situation inside Libya. Thousands of internally displaced people are expected to be in need of varying levels of humanitarian assistance.
More than 367,000 persons have crossed into neighboring countries as of March 26. Thousands are still stuck on the borders without adequate resources, shelter or food. The majority of the displaced are living under extremely harsh conditions, forced to flee unexpectedly and taking refuge in unprepared centers.
Much more needs to be done, and there are very few funds available for us to expand our operation. Please donate generously and help HCI help the ordinary people of Libya cope with the tragic events. Please contact us not if you want to donate. You can also donate online at HCI Canada website by clicking here.