Mobilizing Psychosocial Support within Libya and for Refugees from the Conflict

Mobilizing Psychosocial Support within Libya and for Refugees from the Conflict
When a humanitarian crisis erupted near her town, Bochra Ben Teib found that her midwifery skills were in high demand.
  • 17 August 2011

TRIPOLI, Libya — As conflict in Libya still rages, responding to humanitarian needs within the country and at the borders with Tunisia and Egypt continue to be a challenge. UNFPA’s country offices in the region have mobilized efforts to work with local partners in Libya to provide emergency reproductive health care, but also important psychosocial services to affected populations.

The prolongation of the conflict and the escalation of violence have had an important psychological impact on local populations, especially women and children. “Health services are burdened as thousands of foreign health workers have fled the country since the beginning of the crisis,” noted Rym Fayala, UNFPA Tunisia’s Humanitarian Response Coordinator, who recently participated in an inter-agency mission to Libya’s capital, Tripoli.

Until a few weeks ago, no humanitarian corridor had been established to reach the capital. “On the way to Tripoli I was worried about the security situation there, thinking that it may be unsafe,” said Rym Fayala. “I was pleasantly surprised to discover a normal environment prevailing, especially when I saw people swimming and laying on the beach. But during our last night in the city, air-strikes reminded me that we were in a country at war.”
Indeed, health facilities in the capital reported that “the stress and psychological impact of bombing and the war may have induced an increasing number of miscarriages among women.” Damage to mental health may also lead to anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, and suicide.

The impact of violence, especially rape, can be devastating. UNFPA has also been working with partners to provide medical care and social support for survivors of sexual violence and to prevent further attacks. Sexual violence occurs at every stage of a conflict. Women and adolescents are usually predominantly targeted by assaults, but in some instances adult men have also been subjected to sexual violence.

“Even before the war, no services existed in Libya for women and children who survived domestic or sexual violence,” explained Henia Dakkak, UNFPA’s Humanitarian Technical Advisor. “Survivors who came forward were often institutionalized, because authorities did not want to deal with this issue, and communities did not know how to.”

Specialized centres have now been established since the onset of war to provide treatment to survivors of sexual violence. UNFPA has distributed post-rape treatment kits to health facilities and has ensured that health providers are trained in sexual violence response systems. “For example, with the help of local partners, we were able to provide a safe haven for a man in Benghazi who had been subjected to sexual violence,” noted Ms. Dakkak.

At the Tunisia-Libya border, in Choucha refugee camp, international and local organizations are providing additional food items to refugees, such as dates, milk and meat on a daily basis. As the camp is situated in the desert and hot temperatures prevail at this time of the year, supplementary water supplies are also necessary.

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