April 27, 2011 / 6:01 PM / 9 years ago

Libyans brace for long wait at refugee shelter

BENGHAZI, Libya (Reuters) - When Abu Ibrahim fled fighting near the Libyan town of Ajdabiyah a month ago, he was sure he would be back home in a few days — after all, NATO had just begun to bomb Muammar Gaddafi’s forces.

A month later, Ibrahim finds himself still stuck at a temporary shelter for displaced Libyans in Benghazi, his hopes of going home dashed as fighting between Gaddafi loyalists and Libyan rebels stalls west of Ajdabiyah and both sides dig in for what could be a protracted war.

“I came here thinking I’ll be here only a day or two but it keeps getting longer,” Ibrahim, who declined to give his full name, said at a Benghazi university dormitory where about 950 displaced people have been put up in dreary cement blocks.

“All of us thought NATO would finish everything quickly but NATO has taken very long.”

Refugees say they were overcome by a generous welcome from Benghazi residents, but the gratitude is turning to frustration for many as the possibility of a months-long wait sinks in.

Among those increasingly desperate is Youssef Saeed, 51, who left Ajdabiyah last month with his family and the clothes on his back after a bomb exploded meters away from his young daughter.

Relief at shelter in the relative safety of Benghazi is now giving way to panic as Saeed grapples with the likelihood of running out of money in two weeks.

He says he has begun to frantically hunt for a job, but none are available for a teacher like him — all schools are shut.

Other jobs are just as scarce, given a large chunk of business activity in the city ground to a halt after the uprising began in mid-February.

“I’ll work on any job, even at a farm, or do manual labor, but there are no jobs,” he said, sitting on a mattress on the floor in the small room where his family has been living for nearly a month.

FOOD DONATIONS SCARCE

Sheets have been strung up in the room with clothes pegs for privacy, shielding prying eyes from two mentally disabled girls in his extended family who require special care.

Saeed’s son-in-law Ibrahim Mohammed, a civil engineer who worked at a construction company in Ajdabiyah but has not seen a paycheck in four months, said he was worried food rations would taper off at the shelter as the war drags on.

“The first two weeks we had three meals a day, there was everything you wanted,” he said. “But now there’s only a bag of rice and some tomato sauce and oil every week.”

Volunteers at the refugee shelter acknowledge that food donations have grown more scarce as the conflict wears on and Benghazi residents fret about feeding their own families.

“Many families gave what they could at the start, but now people don’t have that much to give,” said Mohammed Salim, a volunteer at the shelter.

Foodstores are still well-stocked with staples such as rice and bread, but prices of oil and cheese have been rising, Benghazi storeowners and residents say.

Food imports into the rebel-held east are being hit as the interim national council struggles to establish lines of credit and foreign traders fear they will not be paid.

At the same time, the shelter continues to expand.

A group of injured men who were evacuated from the besieged Western city of Misrata to Turkey have now been set up in one block, where Benghazi residents with strong ties to Misrata have been nursing them back to health with fresh fruit and juice.

Most of the injured are eager to return to their hometown despite nursing injuries such as a broken leg and arm — even if Misrata has had little respite from bombing by Gaddafi’s forces.

“I have to go back, I can’t stay here because my wife and children are in Misrata,” said Ahmed Ramadan, a 50-year-old diver as he lay on a bed with a cast on his leg. “I don’t know what’s happened to them.”

Mohammed Ahmed Mufta, a 39-year-old engineer who broke his arm and had pieces of shrapnel lodged in his back during a bombing, was in a similar position.

“Since I’ve left I’ve had no news from my family,” he said, wincing in pain from his wounds. “There is just no way to know. I have to go back.”

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