Zarrugh, 67, originally fled Libya in 1980 with her husband, an anti-government activist. She became a Canadian citizen in 1990 and had returned to her homeland before being forced to flee again last month. She arranged to leave with a group of Canadian workers Feb. 18. When she arrived at the airport in Tripoli, Zarrugh found she was one of hundreds desperate to get a flight anywhere. Several promised flights were canceled.
Then, she says, “Gadhafi’s people,” armed with guns, surrounded her and others. Later in the afternoon, a big truck pulled up to the front of the airport. A group of handcuffed civilians in their 20s and 30s—she believes they were protesters—were unloaded and led through the airport to an unknown location. She does not know their fate. Finally, about 9 pm, she boarded a flight to Spain. She then traveled to Portland via Milan, and is now staying with her daughter.
Last Friday, March 4, she attended a rally with about 50 people in Pioneer Courthouse Square to plead for U.S. support in ending Gadhafi’s 42-year regime. She wasn’t the only demonstrator with fears about Libya’s future.
Amna Shevani fled with her family from Gadhafi’s rule in 1980, when the dictator began to convert the country’s high schools into mandatory army camps, making it impossible for parents to send their daughters to school.
“That’s when my father actually decided that this was not for him,” says Shevani. “He took us all out, and we ended up in Canada as refugees.”
Shevani, like Zarrugh, became a Canadian citizen and moved to Portland 15 years ago when she got married.
Shevani’s eyes shone with emotion as she described what her relatives are facing.
“They have suffered so long,” she says. “They are being killed by this person who is supposed to be protecting them.”
Another demonstrator, 21-year-old Lina Tarhuni, was born in Portland. However, she says her family’s roots in Libya have always been an important part of her life. When the revolts began, she and her family did not hesitate to get involved.
“Here we are safe in our homes,” she says. “The least we can do is educate people, let them know what’s going on.”
Tarhuni helped organize the rally, along with her father, Jamal, “an elder” in the local Libyan community.
Like most of their fellow protesters, all three women still have loved ones in Libya. At the protest, they shared stories of tear gas and cut phone lines.
“Every single person here has at least one family member back there,” says Tarhuni. She last spoke to her family Wednesday morning, March 2, just as news broke that the Libyan military had bombed the oil port town of Brega. “You think [your family] is going to be OK,” Tarhuni says, “and all of a sudden you realize they’re living in a war zone.”
FACT: Portland is home to an estimated 200 Libyans.