Just over two years ago, Khalifa Haftar waged a military offensive on the capital, Tripoli, in a bid to take over the country by force, driving tens of thousands of families from their homes.
The areas of Salah al-Din, Ain Zara, and the Airport Road south of Tripoli were among the most affected areas by Haftar's failed coup attempt. But the southern belt of the capital has always been at the heart of the long conflict in Libya since 2011, says Mufida, a displaced woman from the Salah al-Din area.
As she thanks God for spending Ramadan this year in her home with her family under one roof, Mufida admits that the specter of war and displacement still haunts her. “Life after the war could not be the same as before.”
Speaking to The Libya Observer, Mufida confirmed that the recent war pushed her to the brink of depression. She became unwell and was diagnosed later with a heart condition, blaming the events and tragedies she went through for her health's decline.
“We fled our neighbourhood on December 12th 2019. Our family and loved ones opened their heart and doors, but it did not seem the war would end soon, so I planned to have a space of my own for me and my family so as not to trouble or disturb anybody.”
Like any Libyan woman, Mufida had a desire to get everything ready for Ramadan. “In prior Ramadan's I prepare my spices, list my shopping and kitchen needs for this holy month, but that year was exceptional.”
“After leaving our villa in Salah al-Din, we stayed in a basement about three meters underground. The atmosphere was 180 degrees different, and you can imagine the frustration amid the power cuts and the ongoing confrontations. It was an exceptional year by all means that I do not want even to count from my life.”
With bitterness, she recalls the moment she left her home, “There is no way I would leave my home”, Mufida tells an army soldier who was trying to explain to her how serious the situation was. At that moment a shell fell just meters away from her house and in minutes the nieghbourhood turned into a battlefield. “I am shivering and afraid as I recall with you these memories,” she said.
“Those who came from thousands of kilometers to attack us and pound us with shells bear the responsibility for what happened. We spent the last Ramadan strapped to news outlets clinging to a hope that we will return to our homes soon.
Meanwhile, Khadija's story sheds light on another dimension to the tragedy of displacement.
As a parent for a disabled teenager, Khadija's sufferings were double. Besides the burden of war and displacement, the family worried about the needs of their child who requires more than a roof to settle.
“Explosions and gunfire wouldn’t stop that night. My daughter, who is suffering from an intellectual disability, is very sensitive to loud sounds. She got disturbed and terrified as the firearms went on like popcorn. To calm her down, we insisted it was fireworks; Other times, we say it's construction work.”
Khadija took a risky journey to get her daughter to safety. “We made our way under the heavy shelling escorted by a group of fighters from the defending forces. I could see the shrapnel striking the ground and bouncing back up.”
Although lucky to have her parents’ house in a more secure region, taking care of a disabled person in an overcrowded place was challenging and exhausting. Her parents were hosting other families including her sister who fled the Sidi Hussein district two weeks before her.
“Managing my daughter's aggressive behavior in a family gathering was some daunting task, she could get disruptive and harmful at some point, so I had to lock her in the room most of the time. We would take turns taking care of her me and her sister, who was suffering from diabetes, and I think that had an extreme score on her emotional and physical health, which led to her death later.”
Khadija’s family went back home in October 2020. Upon entering the main gate, they noticed a thin wire tied to a tree in the garden stretching all the way to the front door. "We sensed that the place was not safe. Our neighbours lost their son Zakria Al-Jamal in a land mine explosion at their home.
Ruqaya, a mother of four, lives on a farm in Ain Zara that includes seven other houses for her husband's brothers and parents, all of which they abandoned after Haftar's militias infiltrated the area.
“My mother-in-law vowed that she would sacrifice a camel and give it to charity when her family is reunited again. Her life was drastically altered as her sons fled in different directions. Unfortunately she passed away.”
According to Ruqaya, they had to sell part of their land to pay the rent, which amounted to 50 thousand dinars, throughout the period of their displacement. “To ease my frustration and stress, I turned to charitable work and joined campaigns to help other displaced families.”
All of the displaced people we spoke with confirmed that no governmental or international organization reached out to them during their displacement or after their return.
They also stressed that they received no assistance what so ever from any official body, but all they found was the solidarity of family and friends.
"I do not want any assistance or compensation. All my wish is to see Libya in safe hands and ruled by patriotic people who would use their power to serve their country and people," Mufida concludes.
Last March, the Ministry of State for Displaced Persons and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) launched a joint report in which they reviewed the data of displacement inside Libya throughout the period of the aggression on the capital, Tripoli.
The report included figures of the displaced persons and requirements for financing a program to help IDPs return to their homes.
According to the ministry, about 60,000 families have been displaced from south of Tripoli as a result of the aggression, but until the end of 2020, only 25% of them managed to return due to the great destruction of property and the damaged infrastructure of electricity network and sewage water.
In previous statements to The Libya Observer, Salah al-Din al-Qibti, the official in charge of the National Project for Tracking Displacement at the IOM explained that the report will help decision-makers in the country to take appropriate measures based on documented information, stressing that the problem of displacement requires intensified efforts within the government and national institutions.