A Million Children at Risk as Humanitarian Crisis Threatens Libya, Save the Children Warns

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WESTPORT, Conn. (March 2, 2011) — More than a million children in western Libya are in serious danger as government forces vie with protesters for control of key towns and cities, including the country's capital Tripoli, Save the Children has warned.

Save the Children staff has gathered testimony over the past few days from families and children in Tripoli and nearby towns while conducting on-the-ground assessments.

Parents and children have spoken of their fears of death, injury and arrest as Libyan security forces continue to crack down on opposition protesters. It is estimated that over a million children live in the area.

"The danger posed to children in Libya by the current unrest and its consequences, such as the potential shortage of essential goods, could affect children’s health and well-being,” said Annie Foster, Save the Children's associate vice president of the Division of Humanitarian Response.

"The situation could quickly spiral out of control, and that would be a disaster for hundreds of thousands of children, who could be forced to flee their homes, or worse, get caught up in serious violence."

A thirteen year-old boy from Tripoli interviewed by Save the Children described the climate of fear in the city. "I'm terrified, scared, not feeling safe, and I'm afraid I'll be an orphan," he said. "I've heard that fathers of my friends are being taken and 'disappeared.'"

700,000 children are believed to live in Tripoli, where the humanitarian situation remains unclear due to difficulties in gaining independent access to the civilian population.

Reports from the city suggest that schools are closed, with many people staying at home rather than risking attracting the attention of security forces patrolling the streets.

Meanwhile, in the opposition-controlled town of Zawiya, Save the Children spoke to a mother who described fears of her family being caught in violence if government forces, currently surrounding the town, tried to retake control.

"I have heard that mercenaries are surrounding the area and preventing any supplies coming in," she said. "I am worried that there is going to be a shortage of food as a result of this siege. When I hear a bang, I think that the house has been hit."

The fears of families living in the west of the country reflect a deeply volatile situation that has already caused more than 100,000 people, mainly migrant workers, to flee Libya to Egypt and Tunisia.

There are reports that Libyan families trying to leave the country are being harassed by security forces on their side of the border.

Background on Save the Children in the Middle East and North Africa

The wave of political protest continues beyond Libya, Tunisia and Egypt. Situations in Yemen, Bahrain and beyond are escalating. Save the Children is calling on all parties to ensure children are protected from increased riskLearn more and find out how to help.

Save the Children is the leading, independent organization that creates lasting change for children in need in the United States and 120 countries around the world. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook.

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