Libya: helping refugees

WASHINGTON - Handicap International has deployed two specialized emergency response teams to Tunisia and Egypt to assist the tens of thousands of people fleeing the fighting in Libya.

Handicap International has sent an emergency response team to Ras Ajdir on the Tunisian side of the border with Libya. Bertrand Effantin, Handicap International's Coordinator in Tunisia, explains:

“The people who have crossed the border are tired, visibly affected by the very trying times they have been through, and are disorientated. They have often slept outdoors for several days in the cold and find themselves in a place which does not have the infrastructure required to cope with this mass influx of people. Tunisian civil society, local organizations, the army and international stakeholders are all mobilized and taking vital action but are still not meeting the needs on the ground.”

Handicap International will work to coordinate the different aid agencies already in place and to set up humanitarian distributions to meet specific needs, such as hygiene, which are not currently being adequately addressed. The organization also plans to work on water and sanitation in the transit zones and will provide psychosocial support for people affected by events.

An assessment to monitor the needs of Tunisian families hosting those fleeing from Libya began this morning. Host families may rapidly find themselves facing difficulties in providing support for additional people in their homes. It is also vital that displaced persons are recorded, including those staying with host families, in order to locate them quickly and to offer them appropriate assistance.

In early February, Handicap International provided support to two Tunisian hospitals affected by a mass influx of people injured during the protests in that country. Specialized medical equipment worth approximately $42,000 was supplied to the orthopedic and trauma units of these hospitals.

In Egypt, a team of emergency relief specialists was deployed to the Libyan border today to assess the plight of refugees and the needs of hospitals in the Benghazi area in order to provide them with support, particularly in the provision of physical rehabilitation for the injured.

“The situation is particularly unstable,” explained Hélène Robin, Handicap International's Emergency Response Desk Officer. “The context could change very rapidly depending on what happens in Libya over the next few days, and even over the next few hours; this means we have to be on permanent standby, ready to adapt to the changing circumstances.”

Handicap International is one of the few international relief and development organizations based both in Tunisia and Egypt. The organization will use its field knowledge, network of local partners and emergency response experience to respond to this humanitarian crisis. Handicap International has been present in Egypt since 1987 and in Tunisia since 1997.