Libyan militiamen loyal to the Government of National Accord, Libya's internationally recognized government, keep watch at a position south of Tripoli last month. (Mahmud Turkia/AFP/Getty Images)

As Tripoli Fighting Intensifies, Many Libyans See Leaving As Their Only Option

The UN estimates that 1,200 families have already left their homes in the Libyan capital as rival militias fight for control of the city

As the fighting between militias in the Libyan capital of Tripoli continues, international organizations are sounding the alarm over the imminent danger to the civilian population.

According to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), about 500,000 Libyan children throughout the country are at immediate risk, particularly those in the Libyan capital, which has been the scene of deadly clashes for more than a month.

The UN estimates that 1,200 families have already left their homes in Tripoli.

Sameer, an engineer and father of two, grew up and raised his children in a neighborhood south of Tripoli. A month ago, he fled with his family to Tunis.

“I feared the shooting could kill one of my children,” he told The Media Line. “Ours is just one of many families that were forced to leave their homes and abandon everything they had.”

Sameer’s two brothers were killed in the fighting two years ago. “I lost a lot and I can’t live through that again,” he added.

Living conditions in Libya have declined as the country’s economic and political situation continues to deteriorate, forcing many to seek safety elsewhere. Some have found shelter in neighboring countries such as Tunisia or Egypt, while others have gone further afield to Turkey and Europe.

Another man who identified himself as Salah, says his family doesn’t want to leave Tripoli. His only daughter goes to school in a very central neighborhood of Tripoli. For the last month and a half, Salah has kept her home as he is afraid she might run into harm on her way to school.

“My daughter Nouran is only seven; it’s such an unbearable situation. The other day there was shooting, and the bullets whistling around were so close that we hid in the basement for the whole evening,” he recalls. “It’s not safe for our children, not safe for anyone anymore as the militias continue to fight each other.”

In late September, the Libyan Ministry of Health released figures putting the death toll since August 27 at 115, with nearly 400 wounded in fighting around the capital between several rival militias.

The UN Mission to Libya has twice managed to broker ceasefires, which didn’t last very long as fighting erupted again.

According to the latest updates, clashes have intensified around the capital’s Metiga International Airport, which was bombed by a newly established militia that calls itself the “Movement of Tripoli’s Youth.” This militia, observers say, is a total a newcomer; information regarding its composition and agenda is very scant.

To date, the number of people in need of assistance across Libya has been estimated at over 2.6 million.
The recent fighting has brought the number of displaced to more than 25,000, according to UNICEF, which estimated that about half of them were children. The UN body expressed concern about “serious violations of the rights of children… in Tripoli.”

Geert Cappelaere, the regional director of UNICEF for the Middle East and North Africa, warned that “in addition to daily shortages of water, food and electricity, Libyan children are also threatened by a resurgence of measles, with more than 500 known cases.”

Children were also likely to see their return to school, scheduled for October 3, delayed as more and more schools were being used to house displaced families, he added.

Despite recent ceasefire agreements signed under the aegis of the UN, clashes are still being reported in some districts in the capital.

Militias from the cities of Tarhouna and Misrata in the country’s west and armed groups from Tripoli are engaged in a fierce struggle for control of the capital, including its institutions. Since the country plunged into chaos after the fall of Muammar Gaddafi’s regime in 2011, militias have also been fighting over the North African country’s oil and gas resources.

Today, Libya is at a dangerous crossroads as the unity government faces two rival governments and dozens of armed groups which are fighting for the interests of their regions. Libya’s abundant natural resources have also attracted the attention of regional actors such as Egypt, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, but also Turkey, the EU, and other Western countries.

From Europe’s perspective, Libya’s continuous instability and chaos is seen as a constant threat that is unleashing a flow of migrants and fueling terrorism.

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