Exclusive Interview with Libyan Refugees (Part I)
Note: In the following exclusive interview, PolicyMic Contributing Writer Nathan Lean caught up with a Libyan refugee living in Dubai, who told her moving story as her family remains unsafe in Libya. The interview was conducted over the phone. She asked to remain anonymous for the safety of her and her family. PolicyMic will continue to provide updates as we receive them on the situation in Libya, through continuing interview coverage.
Libya’s embattled autocratic leader Muammar al-Gaddafi may very well be the embodiment of the popular adage, “live by the sword, die by sword.” As political winds of change sweep through North Africa, the 68-year-old Colonel has violently lashed out at his own people, vowing to cleanse the easternmost Maghreb country of “greasy rats” and “cockroaches” “house by house.” He was eerily true to his promise. The bloodbath that poured out into the streets of Tripoli — streets lined with fresh carnage and mounting piles of bodies — can only be described as a scene from a horror film. Some reports place the death toll at 2,000 while others suggest the number could be closer to 10,000. Sadly, this is no movie. This is reality for many.
In the midst of the government-led crackdown, I managed to catch up with a Libyan refugee in Dubai, a mother of three who asked to remain anonymous. She fled to the UAE just two short days ago with her children, leaving her husband, her father, and all of her belongings behind. She talked to me by phone late last night, describing the chilling scene in detail. What follows is a portion of our conversation.
Nathan Lean (NL): So you have made it safely to Dubai with your children. Do you expect your family to follow?
Interviewee (I): I have no idea. I got here two days ago. I took the first flight I found with my three boys. My husband won’t leave his work. He has to protect his shop and things like that. It is all we have. We can’t leave it. I don’t know if there is a future [in Libya] but we have to protect what we have. No one was sleeping, there was gunfire everywhere. It was really bad it was very scary. My husband didn’t want to see us scared. He said, “I will only relax if you leave and you are safe.”
NL: And your father?
I: My dad had to stay. He said, “I am an old man. I have to help the family. I have to help the cousins.”
NL: How did you communicate with your family before you fled?
I: We all went into one house all together — the whole family, so we could protect each other. The day before I left, they cut Internet and communications, so we were better off together so we knew about what was happening to each other and that we were safe. Even if we have satellite, they turn down the signal when news about Libya comes on. My dad has to go out into the streets to get the news. To get a SIM card [for your cell phone], you have to register your passport — so we pulled out our SIM cards so we wouldn’t be tracked. We bought new ones from the blackmarket so they can’t be traced. But I’ve heard that the govt can still track you from the phone.
NL: Have your family or friends experienced any violence themselves?
I: Yes. Two of our friends disappeared because they were giving information out. My brother-in-law was threatened so my dad took him to a farm outside of Tripoli — a farm on the way to the airport. We were there and there was gunfire.
NL: Describe to me the scene in the streets. We’ve watched the violence play out on television but what are some things we may not know that you’d like to tell us?
I: At night, the men go out little by little but we’ve been hearing really bad news today. Today, they said that 2000 people disappeared from the hospital. Two people followed them and reported that they [were taken] to the military airport and you can’t go in the military hospital. We don’t know what they will do with those people inside the hospital there.
NL: Do you expect that they will be killed?
I: I think so, yes. But I am not sure. Why else would they be taken there? It can’t be good. No. But the violence...
NL: Yes, continue.
I: In the Fashloum area [an impoverished district that is an anti-government stronghold], they were shooting people in the residential area and burning them. This is where the youth uprising started. The youth were coming out [of this area] originally. Now it’s blocked. No one could come in or come out — if someone comes out, they shoot them. A girl opened the balcony door to look out onto street and they shot her. They shoot the people and burn them.
NL: They burn the bodies after they shoot them? What is the significance of this?
I: They are cleaning the whole country. They don’t want bodies on the street, they don’t want people to think that there was a massacre, so they dispose of the evidence as quickly as they can.
NL: So this is tactic of the government to dispose of the evidence?
I: Yes. They are cleaning the whole country. They are persuading people to go back to work and school. If they don’t go, they will come back and shoot you. He’s [Gaddafi] a murderer. He’s a devil. This is a massacre. He does not think we are human beings. You see on TV he calls us cockroaches — this is what we are actually because this is what he makes us feel.
NL: The Libyan people have shown enormous strength and perseverance. But will it be enough? What will you see when you awake from this nightmare?
I: Gaddafi will be gone. We don’t want him. There is not going to be a life with him around. He has no mercy. People there are going to fight with everything they have. Even if they all have to disappear, we have to get rid of him. Or else, there is no life. “I don’t need you,” he says. “I don’t need you. I can fly people in from Africa to create a new Libya.” The only future we see with him is black. Everything we know is there. He must leave. Some of us mothers are beginning to think that even if we die there, it’s better to die in Libya than to die in need.
NL: Thank you so much for your time and know that our thoughts and prayers are with you and the people of Libya.
I: Thank you for helping us tell our story.
Stay tuned to PolicyMic.com for continuing coverage of the events in Libya, including more exclusive interviews with Libyan citizens, opposition leaders, and refugees.
Photo Credit: jetalone