Plan to save thousands in siege city as Gaddafi shows no mercy
The sea evacuation of trapped migrant workers and wounded from the besieged town of Misurata will take at least two weeks, leaving thousands in danger of heavy shelling from Colonel Muammar Gaddafi's forces, officials said yesterday.
The trapped labourers from Africa and south Asia are short of food and water and have lived in tents for nearly two months in an area often hit by artillery.
The British government is paying £1.5m (€1.7m) to fund an evacuation by the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), which has chartered a Greek car ferry. The 'Ionian Spirit' has already made two runs from Benghazi, carrying out about 1,000 refugees each time. Another 5,000 are still awaiting evacuation.
A spokesman for the IOM said the current crew could only make one more voyage, adding: "We would like a bigger ship, but it's not going to be possible to get one at the moment."
Evacuation will take at least a fortnight at the current rate.
Doctors in Misurata estimate at least 600 have died and 3,000 have been wounded as the city has held out for more than 50 days against Libyan regime artillery and troops.
The most recent evacuation delivered hundreds of Ghanaians and dozens of recently wounded Libyans from the city's overstretched hospitals.
As the wounded arrived in Benghazi's hospitals, they said shelling in Libya's third-largest city made it impossible for civilians to leave their homes.
Mohammed Muftar, nine, suffered a smashed jaw and badly cut face when shrapnel from a mortar hit him as he played with his friend.
"There's no place safe there. We can't go out of the house, everything is closed and there's a lack of food," said his father, Bashir (44), who had to leave his wife and other children with his brother.
Adbul Razzak Salim al Sreti (29), a rebel fighter who lay in agony from shrapnel blast wounds in his left side, said he had also had to leave his family, who were now moving constantly in fear of rocket attacks.
"They move from house to house every day, because they don't feel safe," he said. "The rockets land randomly. Every day the city is getting hit. Even the hospital is getting hit."
The British evacuation is reserved for migrant workers and the badly wounded. Misurata's other fleeing residents must gain passage on one of the small fleet of fishing ships sailing 250 miles from Benghazi.
Several evacuees on such a vessel said their families had been cut in two as the front line divided the city of 500,000.
Ehsan el Mahadini (24) said his wife had travelled to visit her family in Misurata a week before the uprising and he had not seen her or his two young children since. He had taken a fishing boat from Benghazi to try to reach her, but had returned after nearly three weeks having been unable to find her across the front line.
Another man, who gave his name only as Bashir because his family were still in Gaddafi-controlled territory, said he had been separated from his family for 25 days. He had taken two sons for a routine dialysis appointment at Misurata's main hospital when fighting cut off his house. "The situation is terrible," he said. "My family don't even know if I'm alive or dead." (© Daily Telegraph, London)