3 May 2011

No escape from Misrata for the dying

Alex Thomson reports from the besieged Libyan city of Misrata, where a rescue ship, the Red Star, is being prevented from docking by the Libyan military.

Time is running out. Time has already run out for at least one casualty due to escape Misrata on the rescue ship Red Star. He died yesterday at the town’s overcrowded hospital.

One doctor there, Dimitrios Mognia of the International Medical Corps, is almost in tears: “We have seven ICU beds and eleven cases. What is NATO doing? What is the world doing? If any more people come here they will die. They will die. It’s unbelievable – look – there’s another one.”

And there is: another young man patched up in bandages and tubes, his entire face covered in makeshift field hospital bandages stained with dark arterial blood and the grey mucus of the human brain.

You don’t have to be a doctor to know this man needs ICU. Now. But there is no chance. Not until the Red Star ferry can somehow dock and relieve the pressure on this extraordinary hospital.

This morning the harassed harbour master says he won’t let the vessel dock unless NATO guarantees its safety. NATO cannot guarantee safety. How can you prevent someone in civilian clothes with civilian vehicle suddenly loosing off mortar rounds at the beleaguered port?

So desperate times in the hospital where people suffer. As they do out in the awful heat and dust of a makeshift camp in the port area, where a thousands migrant workers remain, under shell fire, terrified and desperate to see that rescue ship.

They are the reason why the IOM (International Organisation of Migrants) is trying to mount the rescue in the first place. And their need is as great as anyone’s.

Of far less importance, the small remaining band of journalists – 30 or so, remaining here. There is a sort of plan to make a run for it on a small boat but it’s not clear how feasible this is. And with the shelling it is something of a game of Russian roulette.

But with people now dying before they get on the boat and Colonel Gaddafi saying any vessel entering or leaving Misrata will be a target the pressures on all sides are obvious.

And as I write – the familiar sound of incoming shells has come again.