Visas: A critical gateway to saving lives
Access is a fundamental pre-requisite to an effective humanitarian action. The rationale for humanitarian access is as simple as this: without the ability to reach people affected by crisis, aid agencies cannot provide assistance. However, a wide range of constraints on humanitarian access exist in Libya, including an insecure environment, restriction of movement and bureaucratic requirements, including the delay and difficulties of obtaining visas for staff of humanitarian organizations.
Visa constraints continued to be the main impediment for the humanitarian community, representing nearly 36 per cent of all reported access constraints in October, with most international non-governmental organization (INGOs) not receiving visas for international staff for eight months or more. Following a meeting between the Humanitarian Coordinator and the Minister of Interior, significant progress was made with many visas being issued to INGO staff. One of them was issued to Samy Guessabi, Director of Action Against Hunger, enabling him to travel to Libya for the first time since the Libya office was established in November 2019.
“Being able to enter Libya has had a tremendous impact. I am able to meet with the relevant authorities on the ground and engage with them directly. But it also helped me see things differently. Tripoli and Benghazi are cities full of life, people have a lot of energy to change their own future and lead a life in normalcy. The youth is extremely energetic and willing to support their cities and their country. I think despite the constraints and difficulties, it is our responsibility to provide a different image of Libya to the world,” he says. Despite the process, many visas issued are short in duration and some visas requests remain outstanding. “I am currently only able to stay for six weeks. I will now apply for a longer-term visa and also for visas for my other staff members”, Guessabi says.
“Full and unimpeded humanitarian access is essential to establish operations, move goods and staff where they are needed, implement aid distributions, and help affected people to fully benefit from the assistance and services made available,” says Osaid Al-Marwani, Head of the Humanitarian Access Unit in OCHA and co-chair of the Humanitarian Access Working Group. “The visa constraints that INGOs are facing have significantly impacted their program oversight, coordination and engagement with authorities. In order to achieve a lasting change, it is critical that the national authorities support establishing clear and transparent visa processes for INGOs to facilitate their effective delivery of humanitarian assistance to those in need”.