Disaster response
Tunisia / Libya

Libyan crisis

2011
Published on Feb 23, 2011 12:00 AM  -  Updated on Apr 21, 2020 04:15 PM
During the nine months following the uprising in Libya, TSF remained on the ground providing emergency calls and connections to civilians fleeing the fighting and to NGOs working alongside them.

Context: Population displacement
Start date: 23/02/2011
End date: 20/11/2011
Areas of intervention:

  • Tunisia
    • Chucha transit camp
    • Ras Ejdir (Border Post)
  • Libya
    • Benghazi (city)
    • Misrata (city)
    • Syrte (city)
    • Djebel Nafusa (region)

Activities:

  • Telecoms assessments
  • Telecoms centres
  • Humanitarian Calling Operations

7 Internet centres

3.8 TB of data exchanged for coordination

+20 NGOs assisted

30,700 beneficiaries able to make calls

84,465 minutes of calls offered

159 countries called

Context

The year 2011 is characterized by the popular protests in the Arab countries. On February 17, movement of popular protests took place in Libya and especially in Benghazi, and were violently repressed by the police. The country quickly entered a civil war.

Since February 15, more than 500,000 people have fled repression and found refuge in neighboring countries, notably in Tunisia and Egypt.

Between February 23 and March 2, approximately 10,000 refugees crossed the Tunisian border daily; the number of arrivals then stabilized between 3,000 and 4,000.

The reception and support of the displaced as well as the evacuation operations became gradually organized. As soon as the Libyan refugees crossed the border and arrived in Tunisia, they were taken care of by the civilians who organized solidarity networks for their compatriots. Libyan families found refuge in the Tunisian cities south of Ras Jedir. Transit camps near the border were being established to accommodate the growing number of foreign nationals until they were repatriated. Tunisian authorities and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) have established La Choucha camp 6 km from the border, with a capacity to accommodate 20,000 people. This transit camp was a must for all people in Libya before a longer term solution was offered to them.

Deployment

In the first months, TSF concentrated its efforts on helping the thousands of refugees crossing the border. TSF deployed and as soon as it arrived on the ground, on 24 February, led a mission to the Ras Jedir border post and the La Choucha transit camp. These activities focused on setting up internet connections for aid workers and emergency call centers for displaced populations.

Faced with this humanitarian crisis and thanks to funding from the European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations (ECHO), TSF was able to continue its operations for nine months.

On April 13, 2011, thanks to logistics from the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs, TSF arrived in Benghazi with satellite equipment.

The teams then deployed to Misrata on June 13, in the Djebel Nafusa region on August 25 and around Sirte on October 13.

TSF opened seven telecom centers for the benefit of humanitarian actors and offered priority calls to 30,700 beneficiaries.

Telecoms assessments

In the Choucha camp, TSF had to respond to the needs of migrant populations, who originally only were supposed to stay for a few days in, what was officially known as, "transit" camps. The situation turned out to be more complex, especially for people from sub-Saharan Africa, the camp becoming for many of them a longer-term stopover. The primary objective of TSF was to offer first calls, but we had to adapt our response to this more complex situation in order to best meet the expectations of the populations affected by the crisis.

As soon as they arrived in Benghazi, the team coordinated with the Libyan National Transition Council and the European Commission to conduct telecom assessments. These had identified urgent needs for reliable communications. The civil war in Libya isolated the east of the country from the rest of the world because telecoms systems were interrupted or limited to simple local connectivity. Only a few internet access points remained in Benghazi, but the network being saturated, these connections were not reliable. The telephone network, available in the area controlled by the revolutionary forces, only allowed calls within this same area.

TSF led a needs assessment mission to Remada, in the south of Tunisia, where a camp has been set up to welcome Libyan refugees fleeing the conflict. TSF was able to observe that two GSM networks were working properly on this camp. TSF therefore decided not to operate in this camp.

Humanitarian Calling Operations

Choucha Camp – Tunisia
TSF conducted its humanitarian calling operations at the Choucha camp from February 25 to May 12. 30,550 refugees benefited from this activity. The needs of these people in great distress were immense; long queues formed daily to make a priority call.

At the heart of the tragedy, TSF gave a voice to the victims. Beyond the psychological support given to the refugees, TSF's role was also to find concrete and appropriate solutions to the needs of the affected families. These calls were essential, even two months after the start of the crisis. Most of these calls were the first contacts the refugees have had with the outside world since they fled the country.

The TSF team testifies:

We have allowed refugees from Ghana to give news to their families. But every day, we found them next to our center, with no repatriation solution because there is no Ghanaian consulate in Tunis. So we decided to call the Ghanaian consulate in Algeria. The interlocutor assured them of his official assistance and after several telephone exchanges, on March 1, the undertaking was kept: the representative of the Consul himself arrived in the camp and took care of his nationals."

"A hundred Nigerians, some without papers, had no news from their government and no information concerning the date of their possible repatriation to Niger. They appointed spokespersons who came to find us in an attempt to reach a Nigerian embassy. We called the Nigerian embassy in France and finally managed to get the personal number of the Nigerian ambassador to Algeria, who contacted IOM to organize the repatriation of its nationals. A few days later, before they got on the bus to the airport, some of them came to say goodbye and thank us warmly."

The overall strategy for camp management had been to place nationals from countries that cannot be repatriated to their country of origin (Eritrea, Somalia, Iraq, Sudan) in the Choucha camp. These people, who were destined to stay in the camp for a longer period while waiting for an alternative solution for their care, represented on average more than 50% of the population of the camps.

As border crossings have sharply decreased and faced with demand from lower priority migrants, TSF decided, after 80 days of presence, to suspend its operations with the populations, ensuring a possible local response if necessary.

Benghazi - Libya
2,400 Libyan migrant and civilian workers fled Misrata and its bloody fighting and traveled to Benghazi by IOM chartered boats. On April 17, TSF participated in a joint operation with the ICRC to offer telephone calls to refugees in transit in the Libyan Red Crescent camp in Benghazi.

Misrata - Libya
From June 26 to 28, TSF participated in a joint operation with the CRL to provide international telephone calls to medical centers in Misrata.
Our teams left Libya on November 20, handing over equipment management to international NGOs in coordination with OCHA (United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs).

Telecoms Centres

It was essential to establish an emergency telecom center so that NGOs could connect with their headquarters and other emergency workers to maximise the effectiveness of their actions and collect and share critical information.

Choucha Camp – Tunisia
On February 26, 2011, TSF installed a wireless access point to the benefit of the ICRC, UNHCR and Tunisian medical teams in the ICRC tent at the Ras Jedir border post. On March 1, the connection was transferred to the Choucha camp where it remained operational until March 25 for IOM teams and the medical service of the Tunisian army.

Benghazi – Libya
On April 13, 2011, TSF installed a high-speed satellite connection in Benghazi for the humanitarian community, including UNHCR, ICRC and Tunisian doctors.
On April 20, TSF opened an inter-NGO telecom centre in ACTED's premises, enabling the entire humanitarian community to access the connection, as well as computer equipment (national and international calls, faxes, printers, scanners, laptops), and the continued technical support of TSF. This collaboration ensured TSF continuity of the centre beyond the first emergency phase.
Maintained until May 17, these telecom services will therefore have directly benefited ten international organizations. A skills transfer was carried out to a local employee recruited and trained by TSF to manage the center, maintain equipment and meet the technical needs of humanitarian workers.

Misrata – Libya
The team arrived in Misrata on June 20th. In cooperation with NGOs ACTED, Mercy Corps and CESVI, a telecom centre was opened two days later. This centre was a place where key resources and information could be easily accessed by international NGOs working in the region.

Jadu – Libya
Upon arrival in the Djebel Nafusa area on 25 August, TSF support was sought by Jadu Hospital, the main medical facility in the region. A mobile satellite connection was installed for staff and medical NGOs on site. The connection was strengthened by the installation of a fixed satellite terminal on 6 September.

Yefren – Libya
On August 25, TSF also established a fixed satellite connection in Yefren Hospital which was open to the entire humanitarian community.

Nalut – Libya
A fixed satellite internet connection was installed in the Libyan Red Cross offices for the entire humanitarian community until 2012.
The role of TSF was also to provide humanitarian workers with telecom and satellite equipment. TSF provided two satellite phones to ECHO's Emergency Coordinator and the President of the Libyan Red Crescent - who was also the Director of Nalut Hospital.

Syrte – Libya
On October 13, TSF opened its seventh telecom centre in Sirte in collaboration with NGOs ACTED, Mercy Corps and IMC. On November 14, the humanitarian needs were still huge in all areas, from medical equipment needs to telecom infrastructure: there was still no electricity, water or telecommunications in the city.

With the support of