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Escaping Libya: a special report as warlords battle over the ruins of the nation

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Escaping Libya: a special report as warlords battle over the ruins of the nation
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On April 4, 2019, military strongman Khalifa Haftar ordered the so-called “Libyan National Army” to take over Libya’s capital Tripoli - its mission was “to cleanse the region of terrorist groups"

But forces loyal to Prime Minister Fayez Serraj of the UN-backed Government of National Accord vowed to quell the “attempted coup”.

Within one month, over 400 people were killed, 50,000 displaced, and Libya was plunged further into chaos – making it a place from where virtually everyone is trying to escape.

Euronews Anelise Borges travelled to Libya to see first-hand the conditions facing those affected by nearly a decade of war, and to understand the impact of the crisis beyond Libya’s borders.

How did we get here?

Libya was once one of the wealthiest nations in Africa, but when a NATO-backed civil uprising ended Muammar Gaddafi's rule, everything changed.

Ever since Libya has been in a state of flux.

The downfall has left some Libyans, like former rebel fighter Wadah Alkish, wondering if they are really any better off.

'One man in control is better than all of this'

"I'm not praising Muammar Gaddafi. Muammar Gaddafi was a dictator and didn't do any good for the country for almost four decades," Wadah said.

"But, one man in control is much better than all this."

Wadah was only 22 when he joined the revolution eight years ago. He signed up because he wanted change.

"I felt really hopeful. Every time I hear fire shots, there is something inside me that moves," he said.

"A country without Gaddafi, without a dictatorship, without all that..."

But, things did not go the way he had hoped.

"It was an April fools. We all got fooled," Wadah said.

"After 2014, all that collapsed. All that hope, all that [optimism]. It all disappeared. There's nothing but war, nothing but conflict. There's nothing but children hurting, children crying. It's bad. It's really bad."

And, things show no sign of getting any better. For many, they are only getting worse.

A new wave of violence emerged and spread to the outskirts of Tripoli, with multiple players desperately fighting for power.

What has been the impact on Europe-bound migrants?

The renewed conflict brought death and destruction, and left an entire generation of Libyans without jobs and wondering where to go next.

Wadah Alkish is one of those Libyans.

Since the war, he has spent his time volunteering at a shelter housing asylum seekers that escaped a detention centre.

The majority of these people came to Libya with no intention of staying. They had hopes of travelling on to other countries.

But now, just like Wadah, they are trapped in an unrecognisable land.

Munir is one of the asylum seekers at the shelter. He made the journey from Eritrea so that his wife and three children could escape war.

But, instead, they found themselves in the middle of another one - Libya's third war since Gaddafi was ousted in 2011.

When they arrived, Munir and his family were held in a detention centre that was attacked in April by a Libyan militia believed to be associated with General Khalifa Haftar’s offensive on Tripoli.

Munir witnessed the entire event.

"People with guns came to us and they started to take our phones and our money," he said.

"We were divided into three groups. Around 20 people were shot. People began screaming and then they took their machine guns and just sprayed the room with bullets."

Seven people are believed to have been killed that day, and dozens others were injured.

The 1951 Refugee Convention is a United Nations treaty that sets out the rights of those who are granted asylum and the responsibilities of nations that grant asylum.

Libya is not a signatory to the treaty and has no asylum system.

In 2017, it agreed a deal with the European Union that anyone caught entering the country illegally will be placed in detention.

'War is everywhere'

Borges visited Nasr Martyrs Detention Centre, a former tyre factory in Az Zaouiyah, just 30 kilometres from Sabratha, a major human trafficking hub.

While she was there, she was watched closely by police officers, and even filmed.

Nasr Martyrs is one of 26 detention centres in Libya, and it holds around 6,000 people waiting for voluntary repatriation or deportation.

It is crowded. People sleep on mattresses on the floor, and many even have to share.

Satarussem Ibrahim left his home in Somalia at the age of 15.

He spent three months crossing Kenya, Uganda, South Sudan and Sudan, before he ended up in Libya.

He has now been there for more than two years.

"We ran from our countries because of war. But, Libya is another country where war is going on, so we're not safe," he said.

"[War is] everywhere in Libya. We need an emergency evacuation."

It is no exaggeration. War really is everywhere in Libya, with a myriad of groups fighting each other for land and power.

Some groups have even expanded into more lucrative businesses, including human trafficking.

'Fatma' (not her real name), an Eritrean asylum seeker, has experienced it first hand.

Her entire family was taken and kept in captivity for several weeks.

"They used to beat me," she said.

"There was nothing I could do about it. They didn't give us any food for several days, so I had to breastfeed my children."

Fatma's husband is still missing, but she managed to escape with her three daughters and is staying at a shelter in Tripoli.

It is the same shelter Wadah Alkish spends his time volunteering at.

But, when term time starts, the shelter will return to being a school, and refugees and migrants will most likely be placed in detention once again.

And Wadah could end up back on the frontline.

"For the refugees, it really is from one hell to another," he said.

"Libya is hell right now. It's not just them feeling it. We are also feeling it. Us guys who lived here, who were born here, and who are going to die here."

Watch the full programme, Escaping Libya, on the player above.