Africans in Libya, scared and in hiding
As the conflict in Libya continues to escalate, migrant workers from sub-Saharan Africa are increasingly facing violence and discrimination. It follows reports that the Libyan leader Muammar Qadhafi is using African mercenaries against anti-government protestors. Many African workers have not been able to flee to the border, too afraid to leave their homes. In Benghazi, Libya’s second largest city, a group of Africans are hiding out in a wasteland. Jocelyne Sambira reports.
Bethel Ubanwa, a Nigerian worker lives in an abandoned building in Benghazi’s industrial zone.
He and his friends live in constant fear of being found, anxious that someone might knock on the door and discover them.
African workers are increasingly being targeted because of the Libyan leader’s use of African mercenaries against his people.
“I am living here because this is a hideout, you understand. So many of my friends are living in the town. They have some many injuries from different places. So I guess this is the right place for me to live. Not money is the problem but to secure my life.”
Courage Ehioroba, another Nigerian worker, is also in hiding. Before the uprising, he had an open and normal life in Libya. Not any more.
“I saw some Libya guys they were chasing me [holding a]… dangerous weapon with cut glass. I would be cut and that would be the end of my life. That was far back. The day before yesterday some of my workers were going home. Also some Libya guys attacked them on the way, took their phone, took their money and beat them mercilessly.”
It wasn’t always like this for Africans in Libya, says Bethel. But when President Muammar Qadhafi reportedly hired African mercenaries to kill his own people, many changed their attitude.
“Their leader, we heard, used black foreigners to fight against his people. Because of that they have to treat us so badly, because we are blacks also.”
Bethel and his fellow Africans are now living in a wasteland, in poverty and squalor. The place reeks of garbage and stagnant water. But this is where they feel safest.
Another African worker who declined to reveal his identity says he was beaten.
“The reason is because they have the strength at the moment. They can do whatever they want. Everyone is attacked here. Even when you go to the shop (to buy something). Every time somebody will attack the people with arms, pistols, machete, knives.”
Africans, he says, were for years a vital part of Libya’s workforce. They did mainly manual labour, or worked in the service industry. But now, they are outright targets.
“Everyone is armed presently, everyone. So they can do whatever they can. There are no police, no authority. So they are free to do whatever they want. I know that they were looking for the worst, even before today.”
These African workers want to leave Libya. But there is no simple or safe way to get out. So they stay in hiding, to survive and to wait until the political situation changes.
Jocelyne Sambira, United Nations.