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Foreigners Flee Libya Violence, Pour Into Egypt

Egyptians return home from the Sallum border crossing with Libya on February 24, 2011
Egyptians return home from the Sallum border crossing with Libya on February 24, 2011

Thousands of foreigners caught in the violence in Libya are struggling to leave.  Some are able to board aircraft, ferries and other ships chartered by their governments, while others are pouring across the borders of neighboring Egypt.   Many have been helped to safety by Libyans under siege themselves.

Streams of people pour through the dusty desert crossing into Egypt, leaving behind the lives they built in an oil-rich country once offering some measure of hope, however small, of wealth.   

They fled in fear, taking whatever they could:  some a few, simple belongings, bedrolls, a few clothes, the little savings they had at home.  Others have nothing and are only thankful they escaped with their lives.     

Egyptian Wael Mohammad worked as a baker in eastern Libya.  Although the region simmered with resentment against the government in Tripoli, he says he was not afraid when the uprising began.

Mohammad says he thought it would last a day or two.  But then the government counterattacks began.  He says there were machine gun and mortar attacks.  And, mercenaries.   His eyes scanning back across the Libyan plateau, he adds, it was horrifying.

He explains how his coworkers, in a courtyard next door, were stormed by foreign fighters.  He says they had knives, daggers and metal bars and had come to slaughter.   He says it was then he and his friends could no longer stay.

Related slide show by Elizabeth Arrott

 

But, even as thousands of people like Mohammad form a wave flowing out from Libya, another surge is headed in.

The Red Crescent and other humanitarian groups are sending truckloads of supplies and have set up camps for the displaced.

Informal networks have also sprung up, with Libyans from abroad returning home, ferrying in money, medicine, whatever they can to help their countrymen.  

Sayeed Awad is with the Union of Arab Doctors.  He stands on the Egyptian side of the border, pleading the case for those on the other side.

Awad says medicine is in short supply.  He says there is no milk for babies and no anesthesia.  

Yet for all the accounts of the troubles people have endured, the tales of those leaving is one of generosity by the Libyans they left behind.  Simni Admini Mohammad is a shepherd from nearby Saloum.   He was on the wrong side of the border when the violence broke out.

The elderly man sits on the back of a flatbed truck, recalling the help he was given by Libyans along the way back.  He says they stood by their side.   He says the refugees were given aid and support and that they refused money for their aid.

Tears well in the shepherd's eyes. "They gave us everything... God is a witness to what I am saying."  

Around him stand those who, too, have fled  They chant "God is great "and appeal to God to "free Libya."

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