Syrian migrants flee fears of all-out war in Libya

BENGHAZI, Jennie Matthew- Syrian families fleeing rebel-held Libya on Thursday for home spoke of their happiness at escaping the violence, desperately frightened that their adopted nation could spiral into war.
Fresh faced Abdullah Abras, who imports shoes from Syria to sell in the oil-rich North African state, left behind 8,000 dinars ($6,517 or 3,500 euros) worth of stock, so keen was he to escape nights of incessant gunfire.

Syrian migrants flee fears of all-out war in Libya
"No one was buying any merchandise and we fear the situation could get worse and turn into a bigger war," he told AFP after clambering on board the Syrian boat Captain Abdallah for the two-day voyage home across the Mediterranean.
"I'm afraid of what we are hearing about a foreign intervention and all that," he explained, a day after rebels called on the United Nations to order air strikes on mercenaries to help end Moamer Kadhafi's four-decade grip on power.
"We're hiding at the storage warehouse. From mercenaries, air strikes, gunfire, everything," he said as men shoved past, having shinned up the gang plank loaded down with blankets stuffed in plastic bags and cardboard boxes.
"I won't come back if the situation stays the same. I'm very happy to be going back as I've been through some terrifying days and nights here," he said.
"We were hiding," interjected sweet trader Hossam Kajan, 32. "We were too scared even to look out of the balcony -- the amount of gunfire we were hearing and the violence we were reading about.
"There was a night or two, I heard some terrifying gunfire and explosions."
The International Organization for Migration said Thursday it had started to evacuate small groups of migrants trapped in Libya's second largest city by road to the Egyptian border until it can organise sea evacuations.
About 5,500 migrants have been identified for evacuation so far. But Wissam Mohammed, 27, who just qualified as a pharmacist, wasn't waiting for the United Nations.
He was delighted to be going home for the first time in seven years, but devastated by the violence he witnessed in eastern Libya.
"We saw everything. We lived it with the people, moment by moment," he said as gunfire crackled in the distance over the city of Benghazi.
"The day the army barracks fell (to the rebels), someone was shot dead right in front of me. I know his family. It was tragic," he said.
Syrian consulate official Bassem el-Milly, busy organising passports at the dock, said about 500 Syrians were on the boat, including about 200 women and children, and that 2,200 had already left Benghazi.
From Brega, where Libyan rebels were fortifying positions and bracing for a counter-attack from Kadhafi supporters, across the rebel-held east to the Egyptian border there are 25,000 Syrian families, Milly said.
More are expected to leave on boats on Friday and Saturday, he said.
Hairdresser Mahassin Ghannam, 29, clutched the hands of three of her young children dressed in a woolly cap and scarf, and bundled into a woolly jacket to fend off the chill of the long sea crossing home.
"They were frightened," she said. "I work as a hairdresser but we'll have to come back because my husband is staying and our house and my shop are here."
The family lives in Derna, the town in the east where Kadhafi and regime officials claimed that Al-Qaeda had set up an Islamic emirate headed by a former prisoner at Guantanamo Bay, despite denials from local residents.
"I feel Derna is safer than before. The neighbours were protecting us. They even gave us a lift to Benghazi (about 150 kilometres, 94 miles away) to make sure that the kids and I were safe."
"Kadhafi's unpredictable," said Hossam, a supermarket worker with Syrian parents, born and brought up in Libya.
"It's only for a week, 10 days, then we're coming back, even if we have to fight," said the 24-year-old.

Friday, March 4th 2011
Jennie Matthew

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