In the time of war, border-crossings change into a different place. What is normally merely an administrative stop on the way to the final destination, becomes a vital point of survival, cut-line for danger zone. For those affected by the war, reaching the border is usually an unplanned uprooting and deeply traumatic experience. Though a life-saving line, border crossing is often a sad beginning of an uncertain refugee life. And all those crossing have a story to tell.
Since the end of February, the Libya-Egypt border-crossing at Sollum has seen over 160 000 people entering Egypt. As the outside intervention that started on March 19 has brought a relative calm to eastern Libya, the number of crossings has stabilized and some people are even going back. Others are stranded or think that the conflict is far from over. The stories of the people at the Sollum border reflect the complexity of the situation in Libya.
Jabber Noufal is a 68 old Palestinian man with an expired Mauritanian passport and chronic diabetes. His wife is blind and has an expired Jordanian passport. They lived in Libya for the past 40 years and fled to escape the bombing.
With their two young children, they have been at the border since the beginning of the crisis. He wants to go to his homeland, but they can't enter Egypt without valid papers. The authorities want to deport them back to Libya, but the international organizations are pleading for their case.
They live with 200 other people in an arrival hall.
Boy with a bullet-in-the-jaw
Mutaz Amr is 12 and has carried a bullet in his jaw for 4 days. Accidentally shot in Benghazi while looking out of the balcony of his home at the exchange of shooting, he received first aid in a local hospital, but had to run because of airstrikes.
He could not have an operation at the hospitals in Aalmarj and Albayda due to the shortage of surgical services. After arriving at the border he was examined at a WHO-supported clinic. Feverish and unable to swallow he is to be referred to one of Egyptian hospitals for surgery.
His family has two other, younger children.
Chadians on the move
Idris is a young Chadian who has been in Libya for 2 years, working in different areas of construction and services. Since the beginning of the conflict, the sub-Saharan Africans had a tough time in opposition-held areas as they were perceived as mercenaries paid by the Ghadaffi government. He says that on the way to the border, he and his countrymen were stopped at numerous checkpoints, insulted and arrested. Several hundred Chadians are currently residing at the border waiting to be flown back to Chad with assistance of the International Organization for Migration.
Idris has no idea what he will do when he arrives in Chad.
Never too late to fight
M. is a resident of Benghazi, crossing the border to visit his recently cancer-operated brother in Dubai. He spent the last two weeks as a soldier of the newly-formed armed opposition force. He finds it amusing that in his early forties he had to learn how to handle a machine gun.
In near perfect English he explains how he participated in the revolution by using social network sites to organize the first demonstrations. From Facebook to Kalahnikov it took only a couple of days.
While at the border he is looking for some French nationals among the humanitarian workers to express gratitude to the French president Sarkozy for starting the air strikes against government forces in Libya. He is confident that in a couple of weeks when he get’s back, Libya will be another country.
The war-time border is surely a perfect spot for a story teller. But those crossing it today dream about the future where borders will be again a dull and dusty passport-stamping place or even better, where there will be no borders at all.