Libyan families displaced in a dusty village

Libya, April 6, 2011

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  <span class="field-credit">
    Cassandra Nelson/Mercy Corps  </span>
    Families displaced by Libya's ongoing violence are living in schools, unfinished houses, abandoned old buildings and, in some cases, makeshift tents like this in the desert surrounding the village. Photo: Cassandra Nelson/Mercy Corps

Last week, when the town of Ajdabiya — population of about 170,000 — was attacked by Gaddafi forces, most of the people fled the town to escape the fighting. About 2,000 families went to a small, dusty village in the of the desert called Albethan. They knew the way very well, as they had already been displaced there just two weeks prior, when Gaddafi forces took their city the first time.

The front line between Gaddafi forces and the opposition has been moving back and forth regularly. One day the opposition will gain ground, the next day Gaddafi forces will push them back. The civilian populations in towns like Ajdabiya have been caught in the fighting and insecurity for weeks now.

The displaced families that have come to Albethan are living in schools, unfinished houses, abandoned old buildings and, in some cases, makeshift tents in the desert surrounding the village. Most are waiting for the fighting to move far away from their homes so they can return safely.

“The situation here is extremely hard, especially for my kids,” said Mustafa Maftah, who was staying in a tent with is wife and four children. “We don’t have running water, we don’t have toilets and the sandstorms are terrible.”

Assisting the people who have been displaced by the fighting has been extremely challenging for aid groups. As soon as the fighting finishes in their home towns, most of the displaced move back home. Sometimes the people are only displaced for a couple days, so by the time their needs are indentified the people are already heading home again.

But despite the challenges, local organizations and aid groups have been able to assist the majority of the displaced with basic needs such as food, water and blankets. The real concern is if the fighting is protracted and continues to displace people for a long time.

How and when the uprising will end is still unclear, as is the fate of millions of civilians who have been affected by the fighting.