x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Libyans in UAE are already booking their tickets home

Libyans in the UAE say they are considering a return home to rebuild their nation.

DUBAI // The rebel advance on Tripoli has heartened Libyans in the UAE, many of whom are making plans to go home - in some cases for the first time in decades.

And once they are back on Libyan soil, they want to find a way to pitch in during their homeland's transition period.

Other expatriates plan to help from their homes in the Emirates.

"There is definitely a lot of urgency," said Sara Maziq, the director of a charity that organised a fundraiser for Libyan relief in Dubai last night. "It's very important that change happens right away. It's very easy we could fall back on old ways."

Her organisation, Libya Aid Relief Effort, which was registered three months ago in the UK, had been arranging aid deliveries. Now it is raising funds to benefit Libyans disabled in the uprising.

The organisation will also start civil society projects aimed at "getting Libyans to understand that each one of us has a huge role to play in terms of social responsibility," Ms Maziq said.

At the Libyan consulate in Dubai, which reopened this week under rebel control, the volunteer ambassador and other officials had pulled all-nighters to coordinate aid and other stabilisation efforts.

Some staff members at the consulate said they had not left the premises and had slept only a few hours.

The wife of another staffer said he was only stopping at home twice a day to eat dinner and freshen up.  She was planning to meet two dozen women who had volunteered together throughout the war to figure out how to shift gears.

“Until now we are in shock,” said Raga Mahmoud, 54. “But we need to do something.”

Another group of friends who had delivered aid and telecoms equipment during the war said they planned to visit Tripoli this week to decide next steps.

“Whether it’s developing social development programmes or helping deal with victims of war – once we’re there on the ground, we’ll get a better understanding,” said Mohamed Elderrat, 30.

Anwar Yusef, an oil and gas consultant, 37, said he would contribute by moving back and helping rebuild that critical industry. His family had left in 1981, and he stayed away until 2008, when the country began inviting professional expatriates like himself to come home and rebuild their country. He left again in March after fighting broke out.

“It’s going to be a slog. But at least we’re free, and at least we’re home,” he said.

“The future Libya needs people who are versatile in thought, who have diversified skill sets,” he said. “Anyone who has been away for so long should definitely not rule out moving back.

“I don’t think there would be a better feeling of achievement than going back to help this country,” he said.

Other Libyan expatriates said they were eager to help – and to visit as soon as possible. Currently the main route is to fly to Tunisia, then drive across the border.

Hassan Ahmed, 28, booked his plane ticket last night to see his family in Tripoli even as rebel forces were battling for control. He travels tomorrow – the earliest flight he could get.

“I’ll see friends, will hear about who’s passed away and what’s happened. It will be very busy,” he said.

For Taher Deghayes, 45, the return to Libya will be especially poignant. It has been 25 years since he fled with his mother and four siblings.

Six years before they left, his father, a lawyer, had been taken from his home by Qaddafi officials. A few days later the family were told to fetch his body from the morgue. They stayed nervously in their home for a while, then planned their escape to the UK and never felt safe enough to return.

Mr Deghayes hopes to visit in the coming weeks.

“I don’t want to get too excited, but I think it will change my life,” he said. “I hope we can contribute in some way to try to help our country prosper ... It’s very exciting that our children might get to enjoy Libya.

“It feels like my dad can maybe finally rest in peace.”

chuang@thenational.ae