The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa, Geert Cappelaere, recently completed his first visit to Libya. On Wednesday, August 9, 2017, Cappelaere made a statement warning that half a million children in Libya are in dire need of humanitarian assistance due to the results of the conflicts in the country and region. Cappelaere called on all sides to stop the violence and negotiate peaceful solutions. According to his statement, “six years since the crisis began in Libya, over 550,000 children need assistance due to political instability, on-going conflict, displacement, and economic collapse.” Under the “Together for Children Campaign,” UNICEF is partnering with municipalities all across Libya to focus on supporting children’s rights.
Both Cappelaere’s trip and UNICEF research revealed alarming numbers regarding the conditions in Libya. For example, UNICEF’s website reports that approximately 80,000 children are internally displaced, and these children are especially susceptible to mistreatment and exploitation. Additionally, 200,000 children in Libya are in need of safe drinking water and 315,000 are in need of educational support. Libya experienced the second-highest number of attacks on health facilities in the world in 2016, and, as a result, 558 schools are currently out of commission because they are either damaged or are being used for displacement relief efforts.
UNICEF reiterates that the priority for the international community must be the safety and well-being of the children in Libya. Civil society and institutions should shift their attention away from military action where it concerns children because they are the most vulnerable actors in conflict and war. Meanwhile, since 2011, UNICEF has successfully assisted children on site, including providing 1.3 million polio vaccinations to children last year, and along with their international partners, have almost achieved full immunization coverage during a period of peak violence.
Cappelaere stated that, in Libya, “[children] spoke of their dreams of living in peace and prosperity. We have to support each and every child in Libya – especially the most vulnerable – to reach their full potential.”
Moreover, the civil war in Libya officially broke out when Libyan leader Muammar al-Qaddafi was ousted in 2011, after which the nation has faced internal turmoil in attempts to rebuild institutions and regain stability. Since then, rebel militant groups, including the terrorist group Ansar al-Sharia and entities loyal to the Islamic State, have increased in numbers tremendously. To date, no legitimate authority has control in Libya, and groups are taking advantage of the chaos to carry out attacks both domestically and regionally to gain power. As such, a UN-supported government is making attempts to influence the state out of Tripoli, the Libyan capital, but is continuously faced with violent resistance.
According to the Council on Foreign Relations, a main concern is “the permanent fracturing of Libya… [and] whether the new unity government will be able to bring together the warring factions and reestablish stability.” Furthermore, the CFR reports that there are a total estimated 434,800 internally-displaced people in Libya, 6,000 Islamic State fighters, and an unchanging conflict status.
With that said, UNICEF is demanding an “immediate political solution to the crisis and an end to the violence.” It has also set specific goals to have all of its international staff working full-time from Libya next October, increase its reach to 1.5 million children, and to continue working on increasing the stability of institutions and civil society. As this civil war is ongoing and violent outbreaks are reoccurring, noncombatant strategies are paramount to limiting the effects of the conflict and protecting the innocent lives of children.
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