Libya unrest: UK prepared for humanitarian aid effort

Professor Mervyn Frost from King's College London on the difficulties in setting up a no-fly zone

The UK is prepared for a humanitarian aid effort after the political turmoil in Libya, International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell has said.

The UN estimates that 100,000 people have fled Libya over the past week into neighbouring Egypt and Tunisia.

Mr Mitchell told the BBC that the UK was "very engaged", with British officials in both border areas.

Meanwhile the cabinet has discussed Libya, including the possibility of a military no-fly zone over the country.

Foreign Secretary William Hague told the BBC strong international pressure on the Libyan regime needed to be kept up.

While there were several "options on the table", Mr Hague said officials were trying to "see around the corner as to what might happen over the coming days and weeks".

"The best outcome of course would be for Gaddafi to go, for the regime to collapse, and for Libya to find a new way forward," he said.

'Monitoring carefully'

Prime Minister David Cameron said Britain needed to "plan for every eventuality" and to continue to pressurise and isolate the regime.

Asked whether the UK would arm Gaddafi's opponents, Mr Cameron said contact was being made with them.

"I don't think we should go beyond that for now," he added.

Mr Cameron has also chaired a meeting of the UK's National Security Council.

The prime minister's spokesman said: "Clearly there are certain sets of circumstances where a no-fly zone may be appropriate, but we are not at that stage."

Earlier, Mr Mitchell said of the aid situation: "We're very engaged indeed in this. We have officials on the two borders of Libya, in Egypt and Tunisia.

"We are monitoring very carefully what is happening there, we're working closely with the United Nations and a number of leading NGOs (non-governmental organisations).

He added that tents and blankets were being flown in to provide help for people - particularly those currently on the Tunisia border.

The Department for International Development said Mr Mitchell had already been in contact with the head of the UN's Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs, Baroness Amos, and Islamic Relief UK director Jehangir Malik.

'Risks of shortages'

On Monday, Mr Cameron told the House of Commons there was a "real danger" of a humanitarian crisis in Libya.

"We are acutely conscious of the risks of shortages and are monitoring the situation closely. We have dispatched technical teams to be in place at both the Tunisian and Egyptian borders," he said.

The prime minister told MPs that Mr Mitchell would be visiting the region later this week "to assess the situation on the ground for himself".

There were thought to be fewer than 150 Britons remaining in Libya and only a "very small proportion" of those wanted to leave, he added.

HMS York is on its way to Libya's second city, Benghazi, to drop off medical supplies and pick up more British nationals.

The head of the UN's World Food Programme, Josette Sheeran, who has been visiting the border area in Tunisia, told the BBC that food delivery systems were under "deep stress."

She said 14,000 people crossed the border on Monday, more than on previous days. "For some time here", she said, "this will be a very pressured situation."

A team from humanitarian organisation Mercy Corps is expected to arrive in Libya later this week to begin assessing how the agency can help those in need.

Mercy Corps said violence and displacement could have a dramatic impact on critical services and the availability of food and water.

Libya has been hit by protests calling for the Middle East's longest-serving ruler, Col Muammar Gaddafi, to step down.

The UN believes thousands of people may have been killed or injured in a violent crackdown by the Libyan regime.

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