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Brussels, 4 March 2011

The European Commission's humanitarian response to the crisis in Libya

The continuing crisis in Libya has triggered an escalating humanitarian emergency. The European Commission has been at the forefront of the international humanitarian response through the mobilisation of a comprehensive range of measures: humanitarian funding and in-kind assistance.

- What is the current humanitarian situation in Libya?

There is little information available about the humanitarian situation inside Libya. Humanitarian organisations have not had access to large parts of the country, in particular to Tripoli and the region around it under the control of Colonel Gaddafi's forces. Humanitarian organisations and foreign news media now only have access to areas controlled by the opposition in the Eastern part of the country, mostly around Benghazi and Tobrouk cities. Reports from humanitarian organisations based in Benghazi indicate that for now there are no major humanitarian needs in Benghazi and eastern Libya. But as fighting goes on, the situation might evolve rapidly.

Commissioner Georgieva has called on the Libyan authorities and other forces that control parts of the country to grant humanitarian access and let humanitarian actors reach those in need.

- What is the situation with EU citizens wanting to leave Libya?

A genuine European air and sea bridge has been established to evacuate European citizens from Libya. This operation has been facilitated by the EU civil protection mechanism and the EU Monitoring Information Centre located in the Commission's DG for Humanitarian aid and crisis response (DG ECHO). In this context, the MIC has supported Member States' consular authorities by facilitating the pooling of available transport capacity and identifying additional transport assets. The MIC has liaised closely with the EU Military Staff to ensure that all means at Member States' disposal were known and could be put to effective use, also staying in contact with DG HOMЕ.  Several Member States have offered additional vessels and planes to assist in the overall European evacuation effort. The MIC has also co-financed two evacuation flights organised by Hungary and Bulgaria. The EU response was effective: the vast majority of the 8,000 EU citizens wanting to leave the country were evacuated safely within 10 days, and solutions are being sought for the 1201 EU citizens still in Libya of which approximately 127 wish to leave. Evacuations are focused on Tripoli, Benghazi and the Jalu / Nafura region.  

- What is the situation along the Libyan borders?

On the border between Libya and Egypt, the Egyptian authorities are coping well with the stream of returning migrant workers. Between February 21st and March 3rd. a total of 83,252 people have crossed the Libyan border into Egypt. The majority (61,221 people) are Egyptians.

The situation on the Tunisian border is considered a humanitarian emergency due to the massive influx of fleeing migrant workers, mostly Egyptians. Yet, the picture is evolving both in terms of numbers, and of the composition of those fleeing Libya. 

Between February 21st and March 3rd, 96,963 people have crossed from Libya into Tunisia. The majority of them are Egyptian nationals (47,175 people). The congestion has been easing in the last two days. The humanitarian needs on the Tunisian side of the border are identified as sanitation and water facilities, healthcare and food. The European Commission is providing assistance through its partners on the ground and its expert teams who assess needs and coordinate within the overall response. But the situation can change by the day.

- What is the European Union doing to help in the humanitarian emergency?

Evacuations of foreigners that fled to Tunisia is a top priority and the European Commission is facilitating the repatriation of the foreigners who went from Libya into Tunisia since the emergency began. The Commission has launched a humanitarian air and sea bridge. Growing numbers of European boats and aeroplanes are involved in the repatriation of third country nations (mostly Egyptians) to their places of origin.

The Commission has deployed a civil protection team to the Tunisia-Libya border, which helps the International Organisation for Migration, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and the Tunisian authorities to organise the transport and other logistics for the safe return of foreigners to their home countries.

- What is the European Union's humanitarian response?

The Commission reacted swiftly by mobilising from the outset its two main emergency instruments, namely the Civil Protection mechanism and humanitarian funding through ECHO. In addition, DG ECHO has mobilised a team of 16 field experts in humanitarian aid and civil protection, who are now deployed in Libya, Tunisia and Egypt to monitor the situation, and work with the UN to assess the needs and facilitate the coordinated mobilisation of EU assistance (financial and in-kind).

 A first emergency decision was mobilised (3 million EUR) last week. This original amount has been revised to € 10 and then to € 30 million, in order to ensure an appropriate response commensurate to the evolving needs. This is allocated, on the one hand, to respond to the current needs including the equipment of transit camps (shelters, sanitation, medical care, etc.) in Tunisia and Egypt, the documentation and protection of people fleeing Libya, as well as the financing of transportation repatriation through the IOM. On the other hand, this aid is deployed to finance the prepositioning relief assistance to face needs in Libya and further flows of refugees. The Commission is clearly spearheading the EU humanitarian effort with EU Member States' total bilateral contribution reaching a total of €12 million.

Commissioner Kristalina Georgieva visited Tunisia on 3rd March and travelled to the border with Libya together with Eniko Gyori, Hungarian Minister of State for European Affairs, who joined the trip on behalf of the EU Presidency.

- What items are included in the EU's aid?

Member States have reacted admirably to appeals for assistance – both in terms of funding for humanitarian assistance and in providing transport for repatriation. As of Friday afternoon 4th March, 4 boats and 15 aeroplanes have been provided by 6 Member States.

Items such as blankets, non-food items, mobile kitchens, food and medical supplies, as well as financial assistance, have been provided by 12 Member States so far.

The European Commission funding will cover operations of the IOM (provision of emergency humanitarian assistance, transport and evacuation, and setting up a regional migrant information tracking database), and the UNHCR (construction of transit sites, distribution of tents, mattresses, blankets and other non-food items, provision of food assistance and medical items) as well as operations undertaken by the IFRC (International Federation of the Red Cross/Red Crescent) and the ICRC (International Committee of the Red Cross)

- Who pays for evacuation transport?

The Commission contributes to the co-financing the transport transportation of EU citizens and third country nationals.

- Why was the Civil Protection Mechanism not activated for any of the other turbulent cases in the region?

The security conditions in Libya are very different from the circumstances in the other cases. In view of this situation, the Mechanism has been activated for two distinct operations:

  • at the request of the EU Presidency and the HR to support the evacuation of EU citizens from Libya.

  • at the request of IOM and the Tunisian authorities for the provision of in-kind assistance to the people arriving in Tunisia and for their repatriation to their home country.

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