Sallum, Egypt – Residents of rebel-held eastern Libya flowed into neighbouring Egypt today amid threats of assault by forces loyal to Muammar Gaddafi driving eastwards to put down a month-long revolt.
Cars with suitcases tied to the roof and packed with families crossed into the Egyptian border town of Sallum, through which tens of thousands before them had fled chaos when the uprising erupted on February 15.
Some, like Iraqi Abu Abbas, a lecturer in physics at the University of Baida, east of Benghazi, were leaving one conflict behind for another.
“We are leaving because (Gaddafi forces) are coming to Benghazi,” the rebels’ capital and Libya’s second city, Abu Abbas said.
“I’m taking my family back to Basra” in southern Iraq, where violence remains commonplace despite a sharp fall-off in militia fighting since its peak in 2006 and 2007.
Travelling with his six children, Abu Abbas, who left Iraq 16 years ago and spent six years in London before, said he would like to go back to Libya where “life is good”.
“We’re not sure exactly when. We’ll see what happens.”
Behind him, a slow steady flow of cars crossed the border, with drivers receiving phone calls from people inside Libya asking how safe the roads were.
Another Iraqi, Qassem Ahmed said the University of Darna where he lectures had told staff not to come in.
“The university told us to have a two months vacation, that was two weeks ago. We have no students. We were just sitting around without work,” he said.
“I think the situation in Libya is better than in Baghdad... I am worried about what will happen. Many people have been killed,” Ahmed said.
His Libyan driver, Tareq Mustafa, insisted he was “not afraid” of the situation and was heading back to Benghazi.
But Libyans crossing the border were visibly nervous.
One who refused to give his name, his car filled with luggage, food and kitchen equipment, said he was only going to Cairo for a medical check-up.
Another, Abdel Latif Khaled, was going to the Egyptian capital to join family who fled Libya at the start of the conflict.
“I’m afraid because we are hearing many things on the TV and on the news. We don’t know what’s happening,” he said.
Hassan, who was heading to Egypt’s second city Alexandria with his family of four, pleaded to the West for help.
“The Europeans refused to help. We’re in need of European and American help. We want them to provide us with weapons,” he said.
Efforts to secure a no-fly zone over the country to prevent attacks by Gaddafi’s air force have faltered in the United Nations Security Council.
One employee of a telecom company in Ras Lanuf – the front-line town that was recaptured by Gaddafi forces last week – said he was going to stay with some friends in Cairo.
“We’re afraid, my family and my children. We have a lot of friends in Cairo, so we’re going to stay there for a few days until everything is OK, then we’ll go back,” he said.