Libya: hope for a normal life
Owner of two farms covering 6 hectares in the suburb of Sirte in Libya, Saud Abdel Rahman made a living growing wheat and barley and breeding and selling sheep. He lived with his wife Masouda, two of his seven children and eight of his thirty-five grandchildren before the war turned their peaceful life upside down.
The successive battles to liberate Sirte from Daesh drove his family to seek refuge in another city. After the liberation of the city in February 2017, and almost two years after they fled, Saud’s family returned home to find their house razed and their farms burned. The family attempted to get back on its feet and tried to farm the fertile parts of their land but quickly realised that they were not going to be able use their land as it was infested with mines and unexploded ammunitions.
"It was a terrible situation; we couldn’t move freely around the farm, we were scared of the explosives. I was constantly worried about my family’s safety and I was scared they could be maimed by the mines. My financial situation was also affected because I couldn't make money from my farm or my ranch."
Looking to recover a normal life and a source of income for his family, Saud calls a number he saw on billboards in the streets of Sirte. "Don't get close… Don't touch… Inform" was the message on the billboard.
"I didn’t expect 3F (Free Fields Foundation) to respond so quickly. The entire farm was cleared in record time... Now my family and I can plant freely without fearing for our safety. We were very lucky nobody was injured."
Libyans like Saoud and his family strive to leave the war trauma behind and resume a peaceful and dignified life. This is why the EU supports organisations such as 3F (through the Danish Demining Group-DDG), that works to ensure that Libyans, after suffering years of violence, fear and displacement, can go back to their homes and start rebuilding their lives.
"They [Libyans] are asking for a normal life, and this is our first thought; this is what guides our action", EU High Representative Federica Mogherini told members of the European Parliament earlier this month.
Safety is one part of the picture; the aspirations of people all over Libya go beyond that. They want to see their country on the way of reconstruction - politically, socially and economically - and their daily lives improve. The EU's engagement to help Libya recover from years of turmoil has been constant throughout recent years and on all fronts, from supporting the political transition and building of institutions to providing assistance for the rehabilitation of public services and supporting socio-economic development.
"We have always been close to the Libyan people, investing in their healthcare and in basic services, in security and in local governance. It is even more important to do it now", Mogherini said.
In Garyounis, south of Benghazi, Ali Alrayani, 92, is relieved to see the rehabilitation works being done on his hometown clinic. He goes every day to check how the works are progressing.
“My wife suffers from high blood pressure and heart disease, so I experienced it [lack of health services in Garyounis] very often. Sometimes, I had to take her to Benghazi medical centre twice a day. On other occasions, I took her to private clinics which are very expensive. It is very difficult for me to cope with these expenses,” he explained. “When the clinic was operational, we could take our family members there by foot. Now we have to go to the city centre or to a private clinic which burdens the families as it is more expensive and at times unsafe due to the security situation.”
In 2014, Garyounis clinic was providing healthcare services to over 120,000 people- from general care, medical testing facilities and radiology to mother and child care services.
“Opening the clinic again will bring more stability to Garyounis and its surrounding areas,” says Dr. Mohamed Alzawi, manager of the Clinic.
With funding from the EU, UNDP is helping renovate the clinic by filling cracks and holes and replacing doors and windows.
In the desert town of Ubari, hundreds of students were happy to go back to their school earlier this year. Schools reopened their doors in in Alqurania, Almarkazia and Althanwia, after being closed for more than a year. The war forced many families to move to other cities.
“I didn’t expect to return to my original school in Ubari. Last year, I attended school in Twitta, a small village in the east of Ubari. I am glad to see the classrooms and the courtyard are in great shape after the renovation” said Amina Zintani (age 12), a student at Alqurania school.
She is one of hundreds of students who had to leave Ubari and pursue their studies in cities far from their hometown. Her school has been renovated by UNDP with the support of the EU.
“It feels great being with my friends again,” she added. “The people and this place mean a lot to me.”
The EU and the UN work together to restore hope to all Libyans and help them lay the foundations for a stable future, through democratically elected institutions, accountable security bodies, an independent judiciary, the rule of law, and transparent management of national wealth.
"The first duty we have, the first responsibility and even the first interest we have, as Europeans, is to support Libya - with the Libyans and for the Libyans. Also because there would be no other way to have a successful end of the instability in the country,"
The EU supports the United Nations action plan to advance the political process and will continue to support the Libyan people, in particular the most vulnerable, through humanitarian aid and development projects across Libya in partnership with Libyan authorities, UN agencies and civil society.
"We are trying to empower the Libyans to decide for themselves and to try to help the United Nations to run this difficult political process in a way that gives an answer to the demand of the Libyan people to have institutions that function, which is, I think, a natural expectation of anybody in the world," Mogherini stressed.