18 Apr 2011

UK leads Misrata evacuation mission in ‘grave’ Libya crisis

As Britain helps 5,000 refugees from Misrata, a flashpoint city in Libya’s war, International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell tells Channel 4 News “very brave people” are leading the mission.

International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell has told Channel 4 News “very brave people are delivering vitally needed assistance” to Misrata. It follows an announcement that the UK will help fund the emergency evacuation of foreign workers trapped in the port in the west of Libya. The UK is the chief nation providing cash for the mission.

Mr Mitchell said: “We’ve also announced strong support for the International Medical Corps to provide medical supplies and also skilled technical assistance – doctors and cliniciansto help local people caught up in the warfare.

He added: “They’re perilous on shore because there have been munitions exploding within 300 yards of these 5000 (people) caught out in the open.”

The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) has rescued more than 2,150 to date.This will be their third mission, but the organisation said it is running out of time.

“The situation in Misrata is deteriorating on an hourly basis,” a spokesman for IOM has told Channel 4 News. “What we really need now is not just money. We need a boat big enough – a cruise liner – to get everyone out in one fell swoop.”

Meeting with leading UN figures in New York earlier, Mr Mitchell said he is determined to continue to help innocent civilians caught up in the ongoing violence.

The IOM performed its first evacuation by boat on Friday, while a second boat is due to dock in Benghazi later.

Mr Mitchell said: “Thousands of foreign workers have managed to reach the port but find themselves at terrible risk from incoming fire with no way to get out. These evacuations will take them to safety and help reduce the demand in Misrata for the very limited supplies of food, water and medical supplies available.”

The IOM said however that the window for getting people out of Misrata was “shrinking very fast”.

“We may not be able to dock. Generally we wait for a lull in the shelling and zoom in. They’ve let us get on with it because they know we are on a humanitarian mission. But what we need is for a government to help provide a civilian boat big enough to do this,” the IOM added.

Misrata port: Britain to help fund IOM's third evacuation in Libya (Image: Getty)

Medics ‘overwhelmed’

The Government has also pledged to help fund the deployment of five-man volunteer surgical and trauma teams from the International Medical Corps (IMC).

Mr Mitchell said there is a shortage of doctors across western Libya, most with no training in war surgery. Staff are overwhelmed, there are few nurses and weak or non-existent post-operative care, he added.

“British support will mean medical supplies and highly-trained teams get into the worse-hit areas, which could mean the difference between life and death for many people,” he said.

Six civilians were reportedly killed and dozens injured yesterday as Colonel Gaddafi‘s forces continued their seven-week assault on Misrata’s port with rocket and artillery attacks.

Peter Medway, director of operations at IMC, told Channel 4 News the situation in Libya was “very grave”.

Channel 4 News special report - Libya: strike against Gaddafi

Mr Medway said that in addition to those who have sustained injuries amid the fighting, people are suffering from the shortage of medical supplies – for the treatment of chronic illnesses such as diabetes and hypertension for example.

“These are easily managed but without treatment there can be severe consequences,” he said.

Britain’s pledge of funding will help the IMC provide supplies and treatment for people across western Libya.