On the North African shore of the Mediterranean Sea, Libya – a mostly desert and oil-rich country – has an ancient history stretching back to the time of the Romans.
MSF in Libya 2014
More recently, it has been renowned for the capricious 42-year rule of Colonel Muammar Gadaffi.
More than four years after Gaddafi’s fall and death in 2011, Libya is divided into two camps, each with its own government. One is located in the west, in Tripoli, and the other in the east, in Tobruk.
The country is crisscrossed by many dividing lines, along which the so-called ‘Islamic State’ has risen in power.
Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF) first began working in Libya in 2011, when the country was plunged into chaos after fighting between rival factions caused people to flee their homes.
British nurse Ali Criado-Perez treats patients on board an MSF boat used to evacuate more than 70 people from the town of Misrata in 2011.
“We had a lot of problems delivering all these drugs and medical supplies. It was a challenge to find an airplane that transports freight to Libya.
“And then road transport is very dangerous because of the insecurity in both the east and the west.”
Idris*, a 20-year-old, trained nurse from Somalia. He arrived in Pozzallo, Sicily, after enduring a six-month ordeal in the hands of smugglers, passing through Libya on his way to Europe.
“In Libya, I had suicidal thoughts. If I had found some rope I would have put it around my neck. I would tell my friends back home, 'no, don’t make the journey.'
“When I reached Tripoli, I was locked in a room by the smugglers for three to four months. It is hard to know exactly how long I was kept there like an animal.
“I could not move or stand up, and there were no windows. By the end of my time there the space was crammed with up to 500 people. We were given one small cup of food a day, and were allowed just a little amount of water each. If you spoke, they beat you.
“People were really suffering, and were in pain from being forced to remain in the same position for so long. There were also those with claustrophobia.
“How many people were killed in that room? I can’t bear to think about it.”
*Name has been changed | Read the full story
MSF’s work in Libya: 2014
Renewed fighting erupted in the spring of 2014, forcing thousands of people from their homes.
Chaos and insecurity severely hampered assessments and the delivery of aid throughout the year.
Our team in Tripoli was temporarily evacuated in July due to the volatile situation in the city.
Staff returned in October but due to the deterioration of the security situation, we were unable to continue the project and it was closed in December.
Violence and unrest were still widespread at the end of the year. Many health workers fled and health facilities experienced shortages of supplies and drugs.
Insecurity prevented access to many areas, particularly in the east, where there were high numbers of casualties.
MSF provided assistance to Tripoli, Zawiyah, Yefren, Zuwara and Jaddu through donations of drugs and medical materials, including kits to treat war-wounded.
Crossing the Mediterranean
The crisis in Libya has funnelled thousands of people through to Europe, with 90 percent departing from its coast.
People working in Libya or using its coastline as a jumping-off point to reach Europe are especially vulnerable to its instability.
In Zuwara and the surrounding area on the northern coast, where the majority of boats heading for Europe leave from, MSF donated hygiene materials such as chlorine, masks and protective gloves to the local crisis committee to help cope with the number of bodies washing up on the shore.
Find out more in our 2014 International Activity Report.
At the end of 2014, MSF had 71 staff working in Libya. We first worked in the country in 2011.