A YOUNG Borders woman has admitted she is struggling to come to terms with her terrifying escape from strife-torn Libya.
For Ameera Gemberlu, now back in her native Hawick, fears for the safety of the family she has left behind in the town of Janzour, 10 miles from Tripoli, as forces loyal to leader Colonel Gaddafi stepped up their efforts yesterday to crush rebels.
Ameera was one of 30 Britons flown out from the capital’s airport last Thursday afternoon on an RAF Hercules after witnessing scenes she described this week as “petrifying”.
For the past 18 months, the 21-year-old has been working as an English teacher at the government-run Petroleum Training Institute in Tripoli.
“I was a bit homesick when I first went out there, but I was beginning to really enjoy the job, not least because the Libyans are really lovely, kind people,” said Ameera, who worked at Hawick’s Teviotdale Leisure Centre before her career change.
“My dad Mahulud is Libyan and my mum Judie is from Hawick where I was born and raised, but I have dual nationality and lots of family in Libya, so I felt it was part of my destiny to go there,” explained Ameera.
But as events unfolded in the eastern port of Benghazi, Judie, who works for NHS Borders, became increasingly concerned for her daughter’s safety.
“The scenes on the television were horrific and I phoned Ameera several times,” recalled Judie. “She said she was fine and did not believe the trouble would reach Tripoli.”
Ameera said that although she was aware of the rebel action in Bhengazi through TV stations like CNN and Al-Jazeera, there were no outward signs of unrest in Janzour or Tripoli.
“My work colleagues all agreed the revolutions that took place in Tunisia and Egypt could never happen in Libya, given the absolute power of Gaddafi,” said Ameera.
“Last Sunday, which is a working day in Libya, I went to college as normal and saw nothing untoward. Then overnight for the first time I was kept awake by gunfire and explosions and I knew, through Facebook, that none of my workmates intended going to the institute on Monday.
“By the Tuesday we were all scared to leave the house and mum was phoning me constantly, telling me she was trying to get me home.
“My uncle, who I have been staying with, felt it was too dangerous to try and get to the airport but as the situation in the country worsened, the family agreed it was best for me to go.”
Back in Hawick, Judie was trying to contact the British Consulate emergency number given out on Sky News for Britons, mainly oil-workers, wishing to leave the country.
“I eventually got through on the Wednesday after phoning all day, explained Ameera’s situation, and was told she had to be at Tripoli airport with her passport by 7am on Thursday,” explained Judie
Ameera said she will never forget her journey.
“As my uncle started the drive, we saw unbelievable devastation in Janzour ... the police station had been destroyed by fire and there were burnt-out tanks strewn around. We even got stopped at a checkpoint controlled by rebel forces which was really scary as we didn’t know how they would react. They eventually let us through and we reached the outskirts of Tripoli which was like a ghost town with no-one on the streets.
“My uncle knew one of the security guys at the airport so we were ushered through, much to the annoyance of hundreds of Egyptian workers trying to get home who were being kept out of our way by baton-wielding policemen.
“We eventually boarded the Hercules which took around 30 of us to Malta. Another plane took us to Gatwick where I was met by my other uncle Stuart Lunn, who is an engineer. I stayed at his home in London on the Friday night and mum met me off the train in Penrith on Saturday. She had organised it all.”
But Ammera’s relief is tempered by sadness and genuine concern for those she has left behind.
“Since I’ve been home, my uncle has told me one of his friends was shot in the head in the streets of Janzour by one of Gaddafi’s supporters, while the brother of one of my closest friends at work has also been murdered.
“I can only pray my family survives this terrible situation.”