Escalating Misrata Siege Prompts Evacuations, Calls for Humanitarian Aid

BY Talea Miller  April 18, 2011 at 3:42 PM EST


Doctors work on a baby who suffered cuts from shrapnel Photo by Chris Hondros/Getty Images)

As attacks by Moammar Gadhafi’s forces intensify on the rebel-held city of Misrata, the city’s port has become a lifeline for supplies coming in and evacuees desperate to leave.

Reports of heavy shelling and rocket attacks over the weekend led to one of the bloodiest days of fighting in the city Sunday, with at least 17 new deaths according to the Associated Press, and there were reports of more shelling on Monday.

With conditions worsening, the International Organization of Migration evacuated nearly 1,000 migrants stranded at the port of Misrata by boat Monday. Most of the evacuees were workers from Ghana, but about 100 were Libyans, some of whom needed medical assistance for gunshot wounds.

“The humanitarian situation in and around Misrata is deplorable…the shelling has become even louder and worse than before, and there is street fighting today,” said Jumbe Omari Jumbe, an IOM spokesperson in Geneva who has been coordinating with the team in Libya.

“There is a severe shortage of medicine, of surgeons, of hospital equipment because of the bombing and the shelling.”

The Libyan government has agreed to give the United Nations humanitarian access to Tripoli and Misrata, a U.N. official said Monday, but would not guarantee an end to the violence during those missions.

“What I would like to do is get access to Misrata, not just from the sea, but also from the road,” UN humanitarian chief Valerie Amos told reporters in Benghazi. “We have very little sense of what is going on across the city.”

Morten Rostrup, a physician with Doctors Without Borders saw some of the dire needs Friday when he helped evacuate severely wounded from the city’s health clinics.

“The hospitals and the doctors I talked to are totally dependent on aid from outside for supplies and medicine, not only to treat the critically wounded but also medicine for chronic diseases,” Rostrup said. “From what I saw, it shouldn’t be many days of fighting before the hospital system is totally overwhelmed.”

The main hospital in the city is no longer functioning but the three clinics providing medical services in the city had about 150 wounded on Friday, 64 of whom were evacuated by boat by MSF. Their beds immediately filled with new wounded, Rostrup said.

“They are doing some quite good surgery, but this is war surgery where you have to make some tough decisions,” Rostrup said. “This is a situation where you have to do pretty brutal triage. You have to leave some patients to die when you don’t have the resources to treat them.”

More than 4,000 migrants are still waiting near the Misrata port for a chance to escape the city, but the IOM will not be able to continue evacuation runs if the violence continues to escalate, Jumbe said.

That would also have dire repercussions for the people still in the city, as some of the only fresh foods have been coming in through the port, and on humanitarian ships like IOM’s. Supplies of flour and rice staples are holding for now, Jumbe said, but there are few ways for the population to get new shipments unless a land corridor opens.

“If we are not careful, we are going to witness starvation,” he said.