Libyans band together to help Tripoli’s displaced

World Health Organization said more than 2,000 people were injured during battles in Tripoli. (AFP/File)
Updated 16 May 2019

Libyans band together to help Tripoli’s displaced

  • More than 60,000 civilians were displaced from their homes in Tripoli
  • World Health Organization said the fighting in Tripoli killed more than 450 people

TRIPOLI: Peering through the gate of a home in the western suburbs of Libya’s war-torn capital, seven-year-old Chehab shyly looked on as children streamed down the nearby street.
“I’ll just play by myself,” he muttered, holding a ball under one arm.
“I don’t know anyone in this neighborhood.”
He is one of the more than 60,000 civilians who have fled their homes in Tripoli since early April, when forces loyal to commander Khalifa Haftar began their push to take the capital.
While some have found refuge at shelters throughout the city, many more have instead turned to relatives and even mere acquaintances as Libyans band together to find homes for the displaced.
Chehab and his family arrived at his uncle’s home in Janzur in mid-April after fleeing the southern suburb of Ain Zara as it turned into a front-line battlefield.
Nearly a month later, his 10-year-old sister Alia misses the comforts of home.
“I want to go home and go back to school,” she sighed.
“The school closed again because of the war and I had to leave my friends, my room and my toys.”
Their father Abdelhafid would have liked to find a furnished apartment for the family to rent for the holy month of Ramadan, but it proved too expensive.
“I don’t know what I would have done if my brother hadn’t opened his door,” the high school geography teacher said.
An initial lightning advance by Haftar’s forces on April 4 was quickly bogged down by militias loyal to the UN-recognized unity government — which is based in Tripoli — as they rushed to defend the capital.
The fighting has killed 454 people and wounded more than 2,000 others, according to the World Health Organization.
The European Union warned Monday that Haftar’s offensive on the capital was a threat to international peace.
But front lines have since largely frozen and the intensity of the fighting has dipped with the beginning of Ramadan.
The clashes are centered along the capital’s southern gates, particularly in Ain Zara.
But the fighting also extends elsewhere, including the districts of Salaheddin and Khalat Al-Ferjan, as well as Tripoli’s international airport which was destroyed in 2014 fighting.
“Our main concern is with civilians living near the front lines,” said Youness Rahoui, head of the International Committee of the Red Cross in Tripoli.
“Densely populated neighborhoods are gradually becoming battlefields.”
Habiba left her home near the airport in a hurry after neighbors told her they were fleeing the area.
For her, finding room with relatives or at a shelter were not options.
But her husband’s friends came to the rescue, securing the family an apartment in the western neighborhood of Siyahia that had once been used as an office by a foreign company.
The family sleeps on mattresses nestled between a clutter of desks and chairs, but Habiba still believes they are “lucky.”
“Our loved ones often don’t have the space or the means to welcome an entire family,” she said, adding she hoped to join her husband who lives abroad.
“The school year is ruined anyway,” she said, hinting that taking her children along for the journey would not affect their studies.
Classes have been suspended across the capital, and schools in several districts have been transformed into makeshift shelters for the displaced.
Many homes in the southern suburbs have been damaged or completely destroyed by the fighting.
Gasr Ben Ghachir, one of the heaviest hit areas, lies almost completely abandoned.
But 29-year-old Hamza has stayed behind to “stand guard” against looters, while his family takes refuge with relatives.
He doesn’t “feel comfortable staying at other people’s homes,” he told AFP by phone.
But he will need a break from guard duty in a few days, when his supplies run out.
“The past few weeks have been tough and I need a rest,” he said.


Enduring miseries drive exodus of Tunisian youth

Updated 32 min 16 sec ago

Enduring miseries drive exodus of Tunisian youth

  • Despite vote for change in the country, there seems to be no end of frustration among young people

SFAX/TUNISIA: It only took 10 minutes for Fakher Hmidi to slip out of his house, past the cafes where unemployed men spend their days, and reach the creek through the mud flats where a small boat would ferry him to the migrant ship heading from Tunisia to Italy.

He left late at night, and the first his parents knew of it was the panicked, crying phone call from an Italian mobile number: “The boat is sinking. We’re in danger. Ask mum to forgive me.”

Hmidi, 18, was one of several people from his Thina district of the eastern city of Sfax among the dozens still unaccounted for in this month’s capsizing off the Italian island of Lampedusa, as ever more Tunisians join the migrant trail to Europe.

His loss, and the continued desire among many young men in Thina to make the same dangerous journey, vividly demonstrate the economic frustration that also drove voters to reject Tunisia’s political elite in recent elections.

In a parliamentary vote on Oct. 6, the day before Hmidi’s boat sank just short of the Italian coast, no party won even a quarter of seats and many independents were elected instead. On Sunday, the political outsider Kais Saied was elected president.

In the Hmidis’ modest home, whose purchase was subsidized by the government and on which the family is struggling to meet the repayment schedule, his parents sit torn with grief.

“Young people here are so frustrated. There are no jobs. They have nothing to do but sit in cafes and drink coffee or buy drugs,” said Fakher’s father, Mokhtar, 55.

Mokhtar lost his job as a driver two years ago and has not been able to find work since. Fakher’s mother, Zakia, sells brik, a fried Tunisian egg snack, to bring in a little extra money. His two elder sisters, Sondes, 29, and Nahed, 24, work in a clothes shop.

Much of the little they had went to Fakher, the family said, because they knew he was tempted by the idea of going to Europe. At night the family would sit on their roof and see the smuggler boats setting off. The seashore was “like a bus station,” they said.

 

Decline

At a cafe near the Hmidis’ home, a few dozen mostly young men sat at tables, drinking strong coffee and smoking cigarettes.

Mongi Krim, 27, said he would take the next boat to Europe if he could find enough money to pay for the trip even though, he said, he has lost friends at sea.

A survey by the Arab Barometer, a research network, said a third of all Tunisians, and more than half of young people, were considering emigrating, up by 50 percent since the 2011 revolution.

The aid agency Mercy Corps said last year that a new surge of migration from Tunisia began in 2017, a time when the economy was dipping.

Krim is unemployed but occasionally finds a day or week of work as a casual laborer. He points at the potholes on the road and says even town infrastructure has declined.

For this and the lack of jobs, he blames the government. He did not vote in either the parliamentary or the presidential election. “Why would I? It is all the same. There is no change,” he said.

Unemployment is higher among young people than anyone else in Tunisia. In the first round of the presidential election on Sept. 15, and in the parliamentary election, in which voter turnout was low, they also abstained by the highest margin.

When an apparently anti-establishment candidate, Kais Saied, went through to the second round of the presidential election on Sunday, young people backed him overwhelmingly.

But their support for a candidate touting a clear break from normal post-revolutionary politics only underscored their frustration at the direction Tunisia took under past leaders.

At the table next to Krim, Haddaj Fethi, 32, showed the inky finger that proved he had voted on Sunday. “I cannot imagine a young man who would not have voted for Saied,” he said.

On the bare patch of mud by the creek where Fakher Hmidi took the boat, some boys were playing. For them, the migration to Europe is — as it was for Hmidi — a constant background possibility in a country that offers them few other paths.

SPEEDREAD

The continued desire among many young men in Thina to make the dangerous journey, vividly demonstrate the economic frustration that also drove voters to reject Tunisia’s political elite in recent elections.

At the time of Tunisia’s 2011 revolution, they had great hope, Mohkhtar Hmidi said. But economically, things got worse. Fakher found little hope in politics, he said.

Despite the apparent surge of young support for Saied as president, he has been careful to make no promises about what Tunisia’s future holds, only to pledge his personal probity and insist that he will rigidly uphold the law.

The economy is in any case not the president’s responsibility, but that of a government formed by parties in the Parliament, whose fractured nature will make coalition building particularly difficult this year.

Any government that does emerge will face the same dilemmas as its predecessors — tackling high unemployment, high inflation, a lower dinar and the competing demands of powerful unions and foreign lenders.

An improvement would come too late for the Hmidi family, still waiting nearly two weeks later for confirmation that their only son has drowned.

“Fakher told me he wanted to go to France. ‘This is my dream,’ he said to me. ‘There is no future here. You can’t find a job. How can I?’,” Mokhtar said, and his wife started to cry.