Displaced by conflict, Libyan students fear for their future

Tripoli (AFP) –


The fight for control of Libya's capital is depriving tens of thousands of pupils of their education, with high school students displaced by the violence fretting about their future.

"We've fallen behind... and I don't even know where we will sit our final exams or how they will calculate my grades," said Mayar Mostafa, a teenager in her last year of high school.

Mostafa said the fighting has forced her and her family to flee their home in a southern Tripoli suburb, while her school has shut its doors.

All this has left her "psychologically stressed out", she lamented.

Mostafa is among those who are living in limbo -- not knowing when they will be able to resume their studies to salvage the school year, or when life as a whole might return to normal.

On April 4, strongman Khalifa Haftar launched an offensive to seize the capital Tripoli and unseat the internationally-recognised Government of National Accord (GNA).

More than 75,000 people have been driven from their homes in the latest fighting and 510 have been killed, according to the World Health Organization.

More than 2,400 have also been wounded, while 100,000 people are feared trapped by the clashes raging on the capital's outskirts.

Fighting between Haftar's self-styled Libyan National Army and forces loyal to the GNA continues to rage south of Tripoli, and the UN envoy has warned of a "long and bloody war".

- Schools shelter displaced -

Mostafa remembers the day the fighting erupted, saying she was woken by "the deafening sound of machine-gun fire and cannons".

"We had to flee our home in the midst of a decisive school year," she said.

"I was planning to go to university next year... Now I don't know my fate".

According to the UN's agency for children, UNICEF, the fighting is "directly affecting some 122,088 children".

"The academic year has been suspended in all schools in conflict-affected areas, and seven schools are currently sheltering displaced families," UNICEF said last month.

It noted that an "attack on an education warehouse destroyed 5 million schoolbooks and national school exam results" in April.

In many schools classes are suspended because teachers have been trapped by fighting and are unable to reach work.

According to Rachad Bader, the head of a crisis cell set up by the Libya's education ministry, "most schools in Tripoli have remained open", despite the violence.

"But that is not the case for schools in Ain Zara and Abou Slim" in the southern suburbs of the capital, he said.

These "are the areas hardest hit by the military operations," Bader added.

"I hope that the fighting will stop soon, otherwise we will have to look for alternatives for displaced children so that they won't have to loose their school year," he said.

- Catching up -

The education ministry has given time off to teachers and students for the holy Muslim fasting month of Ramadan which began on May 6, hoping that by the end of that period fighting will have abated.

Meanwhile, in areas of Tripoli spared by the conflict, teachers have banded together to give free remedial classes during Ramadan to students displaced by the violence.

"It is generous on their part, knowing that they have sacrificed their Ramadan holiday to help us catch up," said Mostafa, who along with 25 other students is taking maths classes.

"We are really grateful for their help in such difficult times," she said.

But she is still afraid that she will not get good grades in her final exams.

English teacher Gofran Ben Ayad says the impromptu teaching initiative is key for the students.

"What is remarkable is that most of these students are brilliant and have shown that despite the psychological trauma they have suffered and their forced displacement, they are still able to learn," she said.

Ahmad Bashir said he found out about the catch-up lessons through the internet and "didn't waste time" in registering for classes.

"My high school -- the Khaled Ben al-Walid in Ain Zara -- has been closed for six weeks, and this is a decisive year," he said.

"I don't know what my future will be like after this war," added Bashir, who like Mostafa is in his last year of high school.

He hopes the education ministry "will be understanding" in the timing of end-of-year exams, and take into account the plight of displaced students.