The UK is to fund the evacuation of 5,000 migrants trapped by fighting in western Libya, the UK’s international development secretary has said.
Andrew Mitchell said that Britain would charter ships to get people out of the rebel-held town of Misrata, which has seen more than five weeks of fighting.
The minister is attending a UN meeting in New York to discuss the humanitarian situation in Libya.
Aid workers and Misrata residents have said the situation there is “dire”.
They have reported shortages of food, power, water and medicine, as forces loyal to Libyan leader Col Muammar Gaddafi intensify their shelling of the city.
The BBC’s Barbara Plett, reporting from the United Nations, said some of the most desperate civilians were thousands of migrant workers from the Middle East, Africa and South Asia.
Mr Mitchell said Britain would help fund their evacuation in ships chartered by the International Organization for Migration.
Further funds will go towards the International Medical Corps (IMC) to provide medical aid for those caught up in violence across western Libya, he added.
He told the BBC Britain would continue to do everything it could to press for access to people in need, and would try to ensure the international community lined up behind UN efforts to help Libyan civilians trapped by the fighting.
“We’ve been quite effective at coping with the problems on the borders but inside Libya because of the actions of the Gaddafi regime the situation has deteriorated most markedly in Misrata,” he told the BBC’s World Today.
“It is extremely important that the international community provides the necessary humanitarian support to help with that.”
He added that it was “appalling” that Libya had not given humanitarian workers access to the country.
“We call once again today for unfettered access for those who are leading the urgent effort to ensure that humanitarian support can be delivered to people who are in desperate need,” he said.
The UN Deputy Secretary General, Baroness Amos, who is visiting Libya, said thousands of people in Misrata were waiting to be evacuated, and thousands more were in desperate need of medical attention, sanitation, clean water and electricity.
She has been speaking to the Libyan government in the capital, Tripoli, to ask for hostilities to cease to let people leave and allow urgent medical supplies in, but told the BBC she did not get a “positive response”.
The International Organization for Migration has already evacuated two boat-loads of migrants from Misrata.
Jemini Pandya, from the organisation, said those on board were weak and dehydrated, with some close to death.
Libyan war casualties, including a baby who had been shot in the face, were also given space on the boat bound for Benghazi, she said.
She estimated at least 4,000 migrants, whom she described as “the overlooked in the humanitarian crisis” remained in the port area.
In the meantime, the IMC will send five-person volunteer surgical and trauma teams to medical facilities, together with medical supplies including antibiotics, bandages, first aid kits and surgical equipment.
It will also provide emergency evacuations for the most severely sick and injured to Benghazi and other facilities outside Libya, according to a Department for International Development statement.
On Sunday, six civilians were reported to have died and more have been injured in a barrage of rocket fire. Pro-government fighters are also said to have shelled Ajdabiya in the east.
Also on Sunday, the UK’s Department for International Development said about 300 civilians had been killed and a further 1,000 injured in Misrata since late February.