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Uneasiness on a boat to Misrata, Libya

Libya, April 18, 2011

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My first long boat trip. I normally don't suffer from motion sickness but, on this trip, I was a little nervous. Fifteen hours and much work to be done on the boat — then even more work once we hit the ground.

I didn't want to take any chances, especially when I started feeling my head get a little heavy. I was also a little afraid from the stories I heard of the last return trip: 1,100 people on the boat and everyone who wasn't sick from the motion was sick from those that did get sick (blogs are supposed to be descriptive, but I'll avoid it here).

That’s about the most lighthearted opening possible for a blog about a place like Misrata, Libya. Misrata is, at the same time, the front line and the last line in an intense conflict. It is the last remaining city in the west of Libya actively fighting the Gaddafi regime. The people are literally backed in a corner on the sea, fully aware that they have no where to run.

We joined a mission of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) to evacuate some of the most desperate in the city: the migrant workers left behind by employers who have long since fled the city. When any community is short on resources, we know that those from outside the community are the first to suffer, and this case is no different. These workers are from Ghana, Nigeria and a number of other sub-Saharan countries.

We also had the objective to better understand the situation for the larger population. We know it's desperate, but that's not enough information to coordinate assistance. We had had very little contact with the local organizations in Misrata coordinating the relief effort, so I wanted to make face-to-face contact with them, to both understand the needs and get a sense of how exactly relief is being distributed.

Easier said than done.

The boat arrived just as the sun was setting — actually four hours earlier, but we couldn't get clearance from the harbor master to dock because of security concerns. It seems word got out of a ship arriving causing significant confusion at the gates of the port, not allowing any one to enter. There are far more people trying to leave than we had room for: an estimated 5,000 more third-country nationals (TCNs), not to mention the members of the Libyan population who would like to get to the relative safety of Benghazi.

We were imagining the worst, but the port was quiet when we pulled in. Standing on the deck with Jeremy Haslam — the mission leader from IOM — he pointed out places where the port had been hit by artillery or rockets in the past week. He and my Mercy Corps colleague Fadl were just here the day before yesterday.

"Oh, that's a new one," Jeremy told me.

Thanks Jeremy.