In Libya, Stranded Black Migrant Workers Live in Misery

Sub-Saharan Africans are stuck at the border, victimized by racism and abandoned by their own governments. And there's no aid in sight. 

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Moises Saman for the New York Times

On the outskirts of Tripoli, migrant workers from sub-Saharan Africa are stranded in Libya, battling hunger, violence and abandonment by their home countries. Making the situation even more desperate is the discrimination they face. It's based both on the region's intense racism and the fact that they look like the mercenaries who were paid by Muammar Qaddafi to terrorize the Libyan people.

The New York Times reports:

As wealthier nations send boats and planes to rescue their citizens from the violence in Libya, a new refugee crisis is taking shape on the outskirts of Tripoli, where thousands of migrant workers from sub-Saharan Africa have been trapped with scant food and water, no international aid and little hope of escape.

The migrants -- many of them illegal immigrants from Ghana and Nigeria who have long constituted an impoverished underclass in Libya -- live amid piles of garbage, sleep in makeshift tents of blankets strung from fences and trees, and breathe fumes from a trench of excrement dividing their camp from the parking lot of Tripoli’s airport.

Dark-skinned Africans say the Libyan war has caught them in a vise. The heavily armed police and militia forces loyal to Colonel Qaddafi who guard checkpoints along the roads around the capital rob them of their money, possessions and cellphone chips, the migrants say. And the Libyans who oppose Colonel Qaddafi lash out at the African migrants because they look like the dark-skinned mercenaries many here say the Libyan leader has recruited to crush the uprising.

"Qaddafi has brought African soldiers to kill some of them, so if they see black people they beat them," said Samson Adda, 31, who said residents of Zawiyah, a rebellious city, had beaten him so badly that he could no longer walk.

They complain bitterly of betrayal by their home governments, which have failed to help evacuate them even as Egyptian, Bangladeshi and Chinese migrant workers who crowded the airport a week ago have found a way out.

Despite Colonel Qaddafi's brotherly pan-African rhetoric, racial xenophobia is common here. Many Libyans, ethnically Arab, look down on Chinese, Bangladeshis and darker-skinned Africans, in that order. Many African refugees here and in the camps on the Tunisian border say Libyans often addressed them as "abd," or slave.

"Even if someone stabs you with a knife and you go to the police to report it, they won't do anything about it," said Paul Eke, 34, a Nigerian who was camped out at the Tunisian border, displaying a mangled arm as evidence of his firsthand experience. "In the hospitals, no one will care for you. They just don't like blacks."

But many said it was the presence of mercenaries from other African countries that made the situation unbearable. "Qaddafi brought the mercenaries who are black, so the people are chasing us," one 30-year-old Nigerian said.

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