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Egypt

"We will stay here as long as there is war"

We will stay here as long as there is war 

 Abd el-Mawla reckons his age to be around 85. He has lived his whole life in Libya, but three days ago, two days after the start of the Nato bombing campaign on Libya, Abd left his home in Tobruk with his eleven daughters, coming across the Egyptian border and settling in the coastal town of Marsa Matrouh. 

 Fighting has intensified in Eastern Libya as Qaddafi troops made huge advances towards Tripoli just under a week ago, forcing many to flee further east to the oil-town of Tobruk. For families like Abd’s, the risk was too great. 

 But in post-revolution Egypt, Libyans are finding are warm welcome. A local religious group in Marsa Matrouh, led by a  sheikh  here, is providing humanitarian assistance to families fleeing the violence. The  sheikh , also a local landowner, is offering apartments to those coming across, as well as coordinating with the local hospital. 

 Whilst many Libyans have ties with this Egyptian town, it is not a long-term solution. They want to return to their country. “I don’t have any idea of what I will do” Abd says. “We will stay here as long as there is a war.” And for the time being, that seems to be the foreseeable future.

We will stay here as long as there is war

Abd el-Mawla reckons his age to be around 85. He has lived his whole life in Libya, but three days ago, two days after the start of the Nato bombing campaign on Libya, Abd left his home in Tobruk with his eleven daughters, coming across the Egyptian border and settling in the coastal town of Marsa Matrouh.

Fighting has intensified in Eastern Libya as Qaddafi troops made huge advances towards Tripoli just under a week ago, forcing many to flee further east to the oil-town of Tobruk. For families like Abd’s, the risk was too great.

But in post-revolution Egypt, Libyans are finding are warm welcome. A local religious group in Marsa Matrouh, led by a sheikh here, is providing humanitarian assistance to families fleeing the violence. The sheikh, also a local landowner, is offering apartments to those coming across, as well as coordinating with the local hospital.

Whilst many Libyans have ties with this Egyptian town, it is not a long-term solution. They want to return to their country. “I don’t have any idea of what I will do” Abd says. “We will stay here as long as there is a war.” And for the time being, that seems to be the foreseeable future.

Fleeing Conflict

Fleeing Conflict 

 Driving for hours across the bleak Libyan desert in the back of a standard saloon, this Libyan from Ajdabiya hopes to find repose in Egypt. His friends at the wheel, and deeply critical of the Qaddafi regime, are helping him to safety, but adamant that they will soon return to be in their country as the revolution deepens. 

 Thousands of Libyans have been forced to flee their homes as violent fighting erupts in the town of Ajdabiya, over two hundred kilometres south of Benghazi. Many have fled to the eastern town of Tobruk, but an increasing number are crossing the border to Egypt, either for medical care of for peace. 

 Mohamed* was shot by “a sniper” during fighting near Ajdabiya; with the town under heavy shelling the hospital there has all but closed down and so he is en-route to Alexandria on the Egyptian coast. 

 Despite facing its own problems post-referendum, with little governmental organisation, Egypt has virtually opened its borders to fleeing Libyans, allowing them to seek refuge in the country, and with access to medical facilities. 

  * name changed

Fleeing Conflict

Driving for hours across the bleak Libyan desert in the back of a standard saloon, this Libyan from Ajdabiya hopes to find repose in Egypt. His friends at the wheel, and deeply critical of the Qaddafi regime, are helping him to safety, but adamant that they will soon return to be in their country as the revolution deepens.

Thousands of Libyans have been forced to flee their homes as violent fighting erupts in the town of Ajdabiya, over two hundred kilometres south of Benghazi. Many have fled to the eastern town of Tobruk, but an increasing number are crossing the border to Egypt, either for medical care of for peace.

Mohamed* was shot by “a sniper” during fighting near Ajdabiya; with the town under heavy shelling the hospital there has all but closed down and so he is en-route to Alexandria on the Egyptian coast.

Despite facing its own problems post-referendum, with little governmental organisation, Egypt has virtually opened its borders to fleeing Libyans, allowing them to seek refuge in the country, and with access to medical facilities.

* name changed

Stranded at the border

Stranded at the border 

 NATO has implemented its no-fly zone over Libya, driving back Qaddafi forces as they neared the rebel “capital” of Benghazi. Not that they would call it their capital, they are still striving for Tripoli. 

 It was a tense few hours, as reports came of the approaching army, and the destruction and killing that it would entail. 

 But for refugees such as Mustabar, a Chadian fleeing the conflict, nothing is changing much at the border. He spent a year living and working in Benghazi, before the revolution ripped the country apart. With so much talk of mercenaries being employed by Qaddafi, “black Africans” such as Mustabar no longer feel safe in the country, for fear of retaliatory attacks, regardless of their involvement in the conflict. 

 Over two thousand Chadians are stranded here at the border, with little help from their government to repatriate them home. 

 In the mean time, they sleep out in the open under make-shift shelters at the Egyptian-Libyan border near Sallum. A desolate, dust-filled place, where a bitter cold descends at night.

Stranded at the border

NATO has implemented its no-fly zone over Libya, driving back Qaddafi forces as they neared the rebel “capital” of Benghazi. Not that they would call it their capital, they are still striving for Tripoli.

It was a tense few hours, as reports came of the approaching army, and the destruction and killing that it would entail.

But for refugees such as Mustabar, a Chadian fleeing the conflict, nothing is changing much at the border. He spent a year living and working in Benghazi, before the revolution ripped the country apart. With so much talk of mercenaries being employed by Qaddafi, “black Africans” such as Mustabar no longer feel safe in the country, for fear of retaliatory attacks, regardless of their involvement in the conflict.

Over two thousand Chadians are stranded here at the border, with little help from their government to repatriate them home.

In the mean time, they sleep out in the open under make-shift shelters at the Egyptian-Libyan border near Sallum. A desolate, dust-filled place, where a bitter cold descends at night.

Against the flow

After hours crossing endless horizons of flat desert, a range of hills rises up to meet the sea. At the top of these bleak hills, just past the Egyptian town of Sallum, chain fences mark the divide between a country having just peacefully toppled its president, and a violent conflict hoping to reach the same result.

But just metres before the no-mans’ land between the two countries begins, thousands of people caught in this conflict now find themselves stranded. Libya had a huge migrant population, with around fifty per cent of its workforce coming from foreign countries. Many of them were now forced to the edges of the country, caught either at the Tunisian- or Egyptian-border.

For the few Britons leaving the country, the UK Embassy had staff stationed at the border to normalise any problems they faced. Similarly, other countries had sent delegations to aid their respective nationals as many were forced to leave without passports.

For the large groups of Bangladeshis, however, their government was not forthcoming with help. They had just announced that they had no desire for their nationals to return to Bangladesh, citing the lack of jobs, housing and prospects for those that had left their country for just these things.

And then there were the refugees. The people from Eritrea, from Somalia, from Ethiopia and from Sudan. People who had fled their own country, often just intending to pass through Libya with the hope of reaching Europe. These people often had no passports, and certainly no desire to return to the countries from which they had fled. Many said they would prefer to return to Libya “when the situation improves”.

We were few, those traveling in the other direction. A few Egyptian private vehicles, offering humanitarian aid to their Libyan brothers. And the occasional journalist. I did not know what would await me, but I was stepping into the revolution.

Towards the Unknown

Into the Unknown 

 It started at noon on a Friday in Khartoum. With the latest of the “Arab Spring” revolutions engulfing Libya, I’d looked at going there, but dismissed it due to the difficulty of obtaining a visa. Particularly as a  freelance , the word that seems to instil fear into all bureaucrats in such regimes. 

 On this fateful Friday, I was talking to a friend who had just arrived in Cairo, and was planning on driving to the Libyan border the following day. “The rebels have the border, and they’re letting journos in.” 

 Thus ensued three hours of internal debate, pacing around the flat in Sudan’s capital, trying to decide if I should head north. It would mean giving up any chance of going to Darfur, for which I’d spent the last two weeks waiting on a travel permit. 

 Three pm. I’d wrestled with my demons, and there began the process of figuring out the logistics of it all. Trying to buy a plane ticket—or anything—in Khartoum on a Friday, the Muslim holy day, is nigh-on impossible. 

 Six pm. I had the mobile number of a travel agent who could get me on a flight. I wanted to fly immediately. She promised she’d get back to me, and I began to think about packing. 

 Ten pm. The flight was confirmed, I would be leaving to Libya that night. 

 One am. I was at Khartoum International airport, hoping my passport was in order, and saying goodbye to two of my closest friends there. I hoped that I would see them soon. 

 Once in Cairo, the logistics of getting to Libya suddenly came into play. I couldn’t justify the $300 of a taxi to the border, and buses were no longer running there. The crisis in Libya had thrown regular transport into disarray. But there were buses to Marsa Matrouh, the Egyptian coastal resort town just two and a half hours drive from the border. 

 In Marsa, shared taxis were driving to the border, and so I squeezed myself into a beat-up old Peugeot estate along with eight other people. During this drive at the edge of the desert, the question of what I was actually letting myself in for started to come to the fore of my mind. A Libyan man squeezed in beside me tried to explain what was happening in his homeland. 

 I had never covered conflict before, and I knew nothing of Libya, nor of how easy it would be to operate there. A hand-full of journalists had already crossed, but their numbers were swelling rapidly. This could be my break, and I was keen to join their ranks. 

 And so it began.

Into the Unknown

It started at noon on a Friday in Khartoum. With the latest of the “Arab Spring” revolutions engulfing Libya, I’d looked at going there, but dismissed it due to the difficulty of obtaining a visa. Particularly as a freelance, the word that seems to instil fear into all bureaucrats in such regimes.

On this fateful Friday, I was talking to a friend who had just arrived in Cairo, and was planning on driving to the Libyan border the following day. “The rebels have the border, and they’re letting journos in.”

Thus ensued three hours of internal debate, pacing around the flat in Sudan’s capital, trying to decide if I should head north. It would mean giving up any chance of going to Darfur, for which I’d spent the last two weeks waiting on a travel permit.

Three pm. I’d wrestled with my demons, and there began the process of figuring out the logistics of it all. Trying to buy a plane ticket—or anything—in Khartoum on a Friday, the Muslim holy day, is nigh-on impossible.

Six pm. I had the mobile number of a travel agent who could get me on a flight. I wanted to fly immediately. She promised she’d get back to me, and I began to think about packing.

Ten pm. The flight was confirmed, I would be leaving to Libya that night.

One am. I was at Khartoum International airport, hoping my passport was in order, and saying goodbye to two of my closest friends there. I hoped that I would see them soon.

Once in Cairo, the logistics of getting to Libya suddenly came into play. I couldn’t justify the $300 of a taxi to the border, and buses were no longer running there. The crisis in Libya had thrown regular transport into disarray. But there were buses to Marsa Matrouh, the Egyptian coastal resort town just two and a half hours drive from the border.

In Marsa, shared taxis were driving to the border, and so I squeezed myself into a beat-up old Peugeot estate along with eight other people. During this drive at the edge of the desert, the question of what I was actually letting myself in for started to come to the fore of my mind. A Libyan man squeezed in beside me tried to explain what was happening in his homeland.

I had never covered conflict before, and I knew nothing of Libya, nor of how easy it would be to operate there. A hand-full of journalists had already crossed, but their numbers were swelling rapidly. This could be my break, and I was keen to join their ranks.

And so it began.