TRIPOLI (Reuters) - At a shut-down factory in the Libyan capital, traumatized men, women and children are living in cramped huts that used to house workers but are now makeshift shelter for civilians uprooted by conflict.
More than 18,000 people have been displaced, according to the United Nations, by a two-week offensive by forces from eastern Libya trying to take the capital from the internationally recognized government.
Many been unable to leave the southern districts of Tripoli, trapped by non-stop shelling and gun battles where the advance has been stopped for now by Tripoli forces.
Streets have been changing hands as both sides have been unable to gain significant ground, leaving families trapped near the frontline seeking shelter with neighbors.
Among those who got out was 19-year-old Ali, who fled with his family and is now living in a hut built for men making truck trailers at the now defunct factory.
“We were evacuated from our home after three days of clashes,” Ali said. “This shirt I’m wearing is the only item of clothing I have.”
He is a former fighter for one of the myriad of armed groups that have dominated life in Libya since the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, filling the political and security vacuum.
Wounded in fighting last summer, he quit the group.
“They paid me 100 dinars ($70) a day ... now I’m broke but this is better than fighting,” he said.
Some 47 families are housed in the camp with up to six individuals to each small room.
The factory itself if a victim of the chaos that has reigned in Libya as foreign firms pulled out since 2011 and workplaces closed.
One mother at the factory was away on a pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia when the latest fighting broke out. She came straight from Tripoli airport to the shelter to be with the rest of her family who had fled their home.
“My family managed to bring the family papers but not my jewelery,” she said, sitting next to her daughter on a mattress on the floor, her head in her hands.
Her father, suffering from Parkinson’s, only muttered: “What can we do?”
In another hut, 34-year-old housewife Nabila Ayad al-Ammari prayed for the friends she had left behind.
“After we left we received news that there are killed and wounded among our neighbors,” she said.
More families were arriving, some queuing at a municipal office a 10-minute drive away to speak to officials struggling to find places in schools or workers’ huts.
“Since the beginning ... the state has not provided us with aid,” said Abdulfatah Mohamed Ottman, head of a local crisis council.
“Some families and businesses have been offering support but under these circumstances we will be unable to help.”
Writing by Ulf Laessing; Editing by Robin Pomeroy