Coronavirus: Libya COVID-19 cases double in 14 days as violence increases, exacerbating existing threats facing vulnerable populations

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In the past two weeks alone, COVID-19 cases in Libya have more than doubled, while a change in conflict dynamics has forced 24,000 people from their homes, putting the lives of vulnerable populations at even greater risk, warns the IRC.

As the conflict continues in the eastern and southern parts of the country, the organisation is warning that without all sides and their international sponsors committing efforts to secure an immediate, lasting, nationwide ceasefire, the Libyan people will continue to suffer.

Since the start of the latest offensive on June 5, at least 19 civilians, including three children, have been killed. And as cases of COVID-19 increase, health services and healthcare workers are increasingly at risk.

This year Libya has recorded the highest number of attacks on health facilities of any country in the world. Just yesterday, an ambulance was hit by an airstrike, severely damaging the vehicle and the health facility close by. Last week two doctors were killed by a mine that exploded under a body they were moving from a hospital. With Libya's health system already on its knees, continued attacks such as these are making it even harder for medical teams in the country to respond to the pandemic.

However, hand in hand with the conflict and the coronavirus, the existing threats of abduction, trafficking, detention and abuse continue, and IRC medical teams are deeply concerned about the psychological impact these ongoing risks are having on the lives of Libya's population.

Tom Garofalo, Country Director for the IRC in Libya, said:

“Despite events of the past few days, Libya remains a country at war and there is deep uncertainty for everyone. However, this uncertainty is caused not only by the conflict, but by other threats as well. If a person is not killed or injured by airstrikes, their home could be destroyed. If they survive the bombs and shelling, they remain vulnerable to disease and displacement as Libya struggles to contain the COVID-19 pandemic. If they decide to return home, their street or home could be littered with landmines or IEDs, which are causing an even greater number of casualties than the recently ended fighting in Tripoli.

“Migrants and refugees face these and even greater threats. For many, the only way out is to risk their lives crossing the sea to Europe. Many do not make it, and when they are brought back to Libya the fate that awaits them is another unknown. They may be sent to a detention center, or they may be free to go. But whatever the outcome, the cycle starts all over again and from whatever angle you look at it, life is dangerous and this is taking a serious toll on people's mental health.

“It is going to take a long time to solve all the problems in Libya, but a ceasefire is a vital starting point. Reports of eight mass graves having been found in Tarhuna and 22 attacks on health facilities this year alone are a serious concern and these must be properly investigated so that the perpetrators are held accountable. We need both parties to the conflict to work towards a political solution. From there, a return to the rule of law will be possible – not only to bring lasting peace to the country, but to bring peace of mind to the millions of people who fear for their lives every waking moment of every single day.”

An immediate ceasefire and a return to the peace process are urgently needed and all violations of international humanitarian law must be properly investigated, the perpetrators named and those responsible held to account.

Distributed by APO Group on behalf of International Rescue Committee.

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