I had already met with thousands of migrant workers fleeing Libya at the Egyptian border. Depending on your viewpoint, they were the lucky ones.
Lucky in that they were out of the conflict. Unlucky because, stranded at the border, the humanitarian situation was rather dire. Many had no shelter, little food nor sanitation, and knew not when they could return home.
At the port in Benghazi, the Libyan Red Crescent was incredibly organised, providing hot meals for over one thousand migrants now camped there. The port authorities had vacated their offices, which had turned into dormitories for the foreigners stuck there. People would arrive with donations of food and blankets.
Many spoke of wanting to leave for the border, but were unaware of the situation that awaited them there, and feared the journey out of Benghazi. The majority were not “hardened refugees”, but migrant workers having been brought here by recruitment agencies, promising the chance of a job with which they could send money home.
“I haven’t been paid for four months” said one Bangladeshi man, clutching a photo-copy of his passport - the original still in his employer’s office in Tripoli. “My boss just left the country”, fleeing the conflict.
With little information on the situation in the country, nor what would happen to them, many preferred to stay put in the camp at the port. They didn’t know that the cracks of gunfire that could be heard around the city were celebratory, and not the sign of a nearing battle. Instead, they spend their days gazing out of the harbour, hoping that another ship would arrive, and take them to safety.