Connect to share and comment

Fleeing chaos on Libya's eastern frontier

The instability in Libya’s eastern region, said Egyptians coming across the border, came after the withdrawal of the nation’s police forces.

Egypt’s foreign ministry estimates that as many as 1.5 million Egyptians live and work in Libya.

And with expectations running high that many of the Egyptians in Libya are planning to repatriate, a high-ranking army officer at the crossing said that reinforcements were being sent to help secure the border.

Outside the military hospital in the village of Salum, dozens of army trucks loaded with cots, mattresses and tents were readying for the influx of returning Egyptians.

“We are a developing nation and our resources are limited, but we are doing our best to prepare for the worst case scenario,” said the officer, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak with media.

Health officials along Egypt’s border were also preparing for the worst, amid increasing unrest just across the border.

Egypt’s army established a field hospital this week on the plateau just outside the border terminal for wounded from both countries.

Abdel al Galee Nader, a doctor at the tiny Salum Hospital, said that dozens of wounded had already entered Egypt, adding that “he had not slept in days” because of the inundation of injured.

Nader said he had attended to several knife wounds and at least one patient injured from shrapnel, reportedly fired by a rocket-propelled grenade launcher in Libya.

At the border, however, very few injuries could be seen coming out of Libya this week.

Four ambulances sped through the gridlock on Wednesday, carrying 10 injured in a traffic accident on a crowded highway on the Libyan side.

In addition to fears of violence, most Egyptians complained that businesses in the eastern province of Libya were mostly shuttered.

Ahmed, the baker working in Benghazi, said that the costs of bread had inflated from around 5 cents to 25 cents per loaf.

Khaled Mohamed, a doctor entering with his wife and four children, said his family had to leave most of their life savings in Libya because the banks were closed.

“What can I do? I care more about my sons than the money,” said Mohamed. “We also left a furnished house full of electronics and food, too.”

Some of the returnees had more long-term concerns for the future.

With a sudden influx of thousands of newly unemployed Egyptians, many wondered how they would fare back at home under an already stagnating economy.

“What am I going to do now?” said Ahmed Said, 24, who worked as a carpenter in Libya. “I only went to Libya in the first place because there is no work here in Egypt.”