Fleeing Workers Tell Of Hardship In Libya

Benjamin counts among 2,300 Ghanaians who fled the unrest gripping Libya and are now packed into the Shousha transit camp on Tunisia's border. While he doesn't want to go home, returning to Libya is unthinkable.

SHOUSHA CAMP, Tunisia - Benjamin planned to work in Libya for three years and send his earnings to his family in Ghana. Instead, he stayed just 11 months in Tripoli, earning little before violence sweeping the North African country forced him to run for his life.

Now, the 23-year-old Ghanaian plaster worker counts among more than 17,000 migrants packed into the Shousha transit camp on Tunisia's border with Libya. Some 2,300 are from Ghana, waiting for planes to go home. The World Food Programme is running the camp's biggest food operation, serving 15,000 cooked meals daily.

As he tucked into his first hot meal in days -- WFP-provided pasta, bread and an orange -- Benjamin recounted how he sought work in Libya as a casual labourer but was unable to save money to send to his family.

"I only sent them money once, a couple hundred dollars," said Benjamin, who hasn't worked since December.

Benjamin standing in the Shousha transit camp"We are too many in Libya," he added of the hundreds of thousands of African migrant workers who have flocked to the oil-rich nation in recent years. They all competed for menial jobs, mostly in the construction business.

As violence gripped the Libyan capital, Benjamin's landlord helped protect him. "He told us to stay inside the house and not go out. Anything we needed he would buy for us," he said.

Although he doesn't want to go home, returning to Libya is unthinkable. "In Ghana we work a lot for very little money, but still I would never go back to Libya. You can die there," Benjamin said.

A safe place

Like Benjamin, many migrant workers at Shousha camp say it was too dangerous to be on Libya's streets. Those African workers who braved the fighting and ventured out were singled out and harassed. Stores were only open a few hours daily and sometimes shopkeepers refused to sell them anything because they were foreigners.

Many say they arrived here after a perilous journey.

"I'm glad I'm here now, this is a nice place, a safe place, I have everything I need," said another Ghanaian migrant worker, Frank, who has spent three days at the transit camp.

After three years as a construction worker in Libya -- earning around US $300 a month --Frank, 25, now has a small savings back in Ghana.

"It's not too much but it is enough for me," he said, adding, "all I want is a plane to take me back to my country.