Sudanese migrants who fled fighting and turmoil in Darfur are facing war once again, caught for three weeks in the crossfire as Libyan unity government forces battle strongman Khalifa Haftar.
After often brutal journeys, they have been forced to take refuge at a school in centre of Tripoli which was shuttered by authorities last week as fighting near the capital peaked.
In the building’s multi-coloured corridors, children laugh and race past classrooms where chairs and desks have been pushed aside to make way for mattresses.
Laundry dries in the yard under the sun as adults huddle in the shade.
“I fled one war only to find another war,” sighed Alawia, a mother in her forties.
The Sudanese woman from Darfur was living in Saadia southwest of Tripoli with her three children when the clashes erupted.
“At first, we thought the fighting would stop after two or three days, then the planes started dropping bombs”
“I took my children and left without knowing where to go.”
‘No life here’
The UN says fighting in Tripoli’s southern suburbs has displaced at least 35,000 people since Haftar’s forces on April 4 launched their bid for the capital, seat of the internationally recognised Government of National Accord.
They include some 100 people mostly from Darfur that have taken shelter at the Ahmad Ibn Chatwan school, with help from the Libyan Red Crescent.
“We are feeling some safety. We heard news that the fighting continues but we get the smile of life here. There’s water and food,” said 38-year-old Abdelrassoul, speaking in English, his voice quivering.
For him, like many others at the makeshift shelter, the school is the umpteenth stop of a painful odyssey.
Tears roll down his cheeks as he recalls his “totally destroyed” village in Darfur where his family was killed in 2003, the refugee camp he was forced to move to, and the arduous journey north to Egypt and then Libya a few years later.
The brutal conflict in his home region claimed some 300,000 lives and saw the government accused of war crimes as it battled ethnic minority rebels.
Abdelrassoul said he was kidnapped three times in Libya before arriving to Tripoli in September with plans “to cross the sea to Europe”.
“And suddenly, the war broke out.”
A week into the fighting, he fled with his wife, two young daughters and a number of other families including pregnant women and small children.
They walked for hours, following directions from locals towards field stations run by the Libyan Red Crescent.
As front lines shifted, they kept moving, from the suburbs of Gasr ben Ghachir and Ain Zara to two different schools in Tripoli.
“Every time we arrived somewhere, the war followed us,” he said.
‘We have no choice’
Most migrants in Libya share the same goal -Europe- hoping their perilous journeys will not have been in vain.
Visibly exhausted, one man said he was detained by a non-Libyan armed group in the desert on his way towards the capital.
“They raped my wife.. she is two months pregnant and I don’t know if it’s my child or not,” he said.
Standing not far from him, 26-year-old Jihan Hussein arrived Tripoli some seven months ago after a dangerous trip through the desert with her husband and two children.
“We suffered on the road… we’ve suffered here,” she said, her face framed by a striped black-and-white veil.
She says that after they arrived in the capital a man approached her husband and asked if he was looking for work.
“He took him and since then we’ve had no news.”
She has sought shelter in the skeletons of destroyed buildings, living a life on the streets where she says she’s been raped.
“We’re tired,” she sighed.
“I have no money.. I’m ready to sell one of my organs. If I have to sell a kidney I’ll do it and I’ll take the journey by sea to Europe. We have no choice.”