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 2015
More recently, it has been renowned for the capricious 42-year rule of Colonel Muammar Gadaffi and is now a springboard for migrants and refugees heading for Europe.
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.
Late in 2015, the UN brokered an agreement to form a new "unity" government - the Presidency Council, headed by unity Prime Minister Fayez Sarraj - but both Tripoli and Tobruk administrations were reluctant to acknowledge its authority
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: 2015
Since the end of the Muammar Gaddafi regime in 2011, Libya has been divided by armed conflict and the violence has escalated in recent years.
Libya had two governments: one based in the east in Tobruk, which was internationally recognised and the other based in the west in Tripoli.
Drug and equipment donations
In 2015, the Islamic State group took control of the coastal city of Sirte and established a presence in several other cities such as Derna, while fighting continued between political factions in several areas. As a result, it became extremely difficult to maintain medical and drug supplies, foreign health workers fled and many hospitals and clinics were unable to function properly.
However, we donated drugs and vaccines to hospitals in the cities of Al-Beyda and Al-Marj, and also improved hygiene conditions at Al-Qubba hospital in the east.
We donated equipment such as chlorine, masks and protective gloves to the local crisis committee at Al-Marj, which is near the Mediterranean coast, to help cope with the bodies washing up on the shore– people who had drowned while attempting to cross the sea.
Local staff training
As armed conflict continued in Benghazi, we increased the capacity of Al-Abyar field hospital, located 60 kilometres from the city, so that it could stabilise the wounded.
Our team provided training in emergency care management in Al-Abyar and Al-Marj hospitals. MSF donated drugs to the only three functional hospitals in Benghazi, including Benghazi paediatric hospital, and provided regular donations to diabetic and renal centres. Between July and November, MSF distributed food to 2,400 displaced families in partnership with a Libyan NGO.
In November, MSF started supporting Zuwara hospital in western Libya with drugs, medical supplies, training and staff.
Find out more in our 2015 International Activity Report.
At the end of 2015, MSF had 40 staff working in Libya. We first worked in the country in 2011.