By Tom Westcott.
Tripoli, 13 February 2013:
A container full of medical supplies donated to Libyan hospitals by a Canada-based charity has been . . .[restrict]stuck on the side of Tripoli port for nearly a year.
The forty-foot box container holding some $60,000 worth of essential medical supplies arrived in March 2012 but is still waiting for customs clearance.
“It is full of equipment, including ten brand new walkers, 16 wheelchairs and over 100 mattresses,” spokesman for the charity BC Camp for Libya, Wahbi Ghanbur, told the Libya Herald: “I know Libya is desperate for these because we have seen pictures of people sleeping in hallways and on beds with no mattresses.”
Former Foreign Minister Ashour Bin Kyahal has now got involved and is determined that the container will be released. “I am taking this very seriously,” he told the Libya Herald, “and if there is no progress by next week, I will go down to the port myself.”
Bin Kyahal said that the customs in Tripoli Port had promised to help. “We are trying to get this sorted out as soon as possible,” he said, “and hopefully there will be some progress soon.”
BC Camp for Libya spent four months collecting the equipment and supplies, which were mainly donations. It has now spent nearly a year trying to get these items released from Tripoli Port.
The charity’s Libyan partner is based in Benghazi and he has been dealing with relentless demands from customs. “He has tried his best to get the container out but they have asked for many papers and made many demands,” Ghanbur explained. “He collected all the papers but then they asked for more papers from a medical support organisation, who said the shipment could only come in under their name, but we didn’t want that.”
Ghanbur said BC Camp for Libya had tried everything they could think of to get the container out. Hospitals have apparently even sent letters pleading with customs to release the medical supplies, explaining how desperately they are needed. But the container has still not been cleared.
“We don’t even know if it’s still there now,” Ghanbur said: “We don’t know how things are now but in the past, if not collected after six months, containers would be confiscated.”
The refusal of customs to release the container for the last year has not simply been because of paperwork. Another problem is that some items, such as alcohol swabs, have passed their expiry date.
“Any items that had expired were cleared by Libyan doctors in our community in Canada,” Ghanbur said. He explained that the only items with expired dates were for external use, nothing that would be ingested or otherwise used inside the body.
“There are loads of supplies that haven’t expired, some second-hand equipment and loads of brand new stuff,” said Ghanbur. “But fine, if under Libyan law they don’t want to let expired items into the country, they can just remove the out-of-date stuff, destroy it, and release the rest of the supplies. We just want the stuff to get to the people who really need it.”
Even health ministers have acknowledged the problems faced by Libyan hospitals, which include a lack of equipment.
BC Camp for Libya was established at the start of the revolution by the small ex-patriate community living in Vancouver. After liberation, Ghanbur said, they decided to continue collecting donations and shipping them to Libya to support the country.
It has so far made six separate deliveries of much-needed equipment and supplies, with another new container full of medical equipment just arriving at Benghazi port.
There is, however, understandable frustration that this one container load of equipment has become stuck, and officials seem incapable of freeing it for distribution.
“Everyone here did a lot of work to get this together, so we just don’t understand why they’re holding it,” said Ghanbur. [/restrict]