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Ethnic violence and mass deportations of immigrants in Libya

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  • Robert Sterling
    Please send as far and wide as possible. Thanks, Robert Sterling Editor, The Konformist http://www.konformist.com World Socialist Website ( http://www.wsws.org
    Message 1 of 1 , Oct 31, 2000
      Please send as far and wide as possible.


      Robert Sterling
      Editor, The Konformist

      World Socialist Website ( http://www.wsws.org )

      Ethnic violence and mass deportations of immigrants in Libya
      By Trevor Johnson
      28 October 2000
      Use this version to print

      Beginning in September, African immigrants living in Libya have been
      routinely set upon and killed by gangs of Libyan youths, with no
      action taken by the security forces to prevent the attacks.
      Immigrants, including thousands of Nigerians and Ghanaians and many
      from Chad, Niger, the Gambia and Sudan have since been forcibly
      removed from Libya as part of an organised repatriation in the wake
      of the widespread violence. Some of the deportees said they had
      suffered beatings, while others said they had been robbed or had
      their homes burned down.

      The clashes began after Libya's top legislative and executive body
      ordered a crackdown on the employment of foreigners-many of whom have
      no official papers—and had made arrangements for their forcible
      deportation. Prior to the violence, many of those labelled
      as "illegal immigrants" had spent weeks in various detention centres.

      A Ghanaian minister, Daniel Ohene Agyekum, said on October 8 that his
      government was speeding up the evacuation of about 5,000 of its
      citizens who had been living in unhygienic conditions in camps
      outside the capital, Tripoli. About 3,000 Sudanese workers have also
      been flown out of Libya. Sudan's As-Sahafi Ad-Dawli newspaper quoted
      returnees saying many Sudanese were killed or displaced in attacks in
      the towns of Zawiya and Zahrah, to the west of Tripoli.

      Nigeria and Libya concluded an agreement to repatriate thousands of
      Nigerians and within days forcible repatriations began, with 700
      being airlifted in two days in a Libyan airliner. Doyin Okupe,
      special assistant on media and publicity to Nigerian President
      Olusegun Obasanjo, said thousands of Nigerians living in Libya had
      become a "burden" on their host country by engaging in various kinds
      of "anti-social activities". "The bulk of these Nigerians fall within
      the category of those that left in search of better opportunities
      abroad and ended up in Libya," Okupe said.

      Libyan leader Colonel Muammar Gadhafi has attempted to distance
      himself from the ethnic attacks. He blamed the violence on enemies of
      African unity determined to scuttle his project to create "the Union
      of African States", citing "hidden hands," presumably from the West.
      But interviews with those fleeing the ethnic attacks say that they
      were carried out by gangs of youths with the complicity if not direct
      involvement of state forces. Certainly the atmosphere of hostility to
      black Africans was whipped up by the Libyan regime's plans to
      deport "illegal" immigrants.

      One example of this official support came from the chargé d'affaires
      at the Libyan Embassy in Abuja, Nigeria. He is reported in the
      Nigerian Post Express saying that the expulsions were "good riddance
      to bad rubbish". He said more immigrants residing in Libya illegally
      would be "fished out", alleging that the Nigerians had been
      responsible for the rising crime wave. He claimed that, "some of them
      who can't get a job, get involved in drug peddling, prostitution and
      armed robbery, which our society does not like." He said the Libyan
      Ambassador to Nigeria, Mohammed Sherif, had been summoned to Tripoli
      for briefing, adding that only Nigerians with legal documents would
      be allowed to stay in the country.

      Wide-scale anti-immigrant violence

      Reports of the figures for those killed range from 50 to 500. The
      Libyan authorities claim to have counted only 33 bodies in the
      morgue, but eyewitnesses said they believed that hundreds had been

      Although very little has been reported in the heavily censored Libyan
      press, reports in the Nigerian and Ghanaian media give some
      indication of the wide scale of the violence. A typical report is
      given in the Nigerian Post Express. Victor Ilori from Lagos State,
      one of the Nigerians forced to flee, said that not all were illegal
      immigrants. "Our problem however, started with the attack early last
      month by the Asma Boys [a gang of Libyan youth] who invaded
      Gregarage, a suburb of Tripoli occupied mainly by foreigners,
      including Nigerians." The attack then spread to Zawai, Zamzu, Abuzhin
      and other suburbs.

      The Post Express reports returnees explaining: "It was so fierce. It
      was so horrible, it was so terrifying that even the Nigerian
      Ambassador himself could not withstand the situation." One immigrant
      said, "Some others were unable to come out in the cross fire. They
      died. But mine was only injuries sustained from machete cuts," he

      Other reports of Nigerian returnees, including young women, said that
      many Nigerians had been killed, especially as Libyans launched
      attacks on black Africans following a minor dispute during a football

      Those returning to Nigeria were outraged by the collaboration of
      Nigeria in the deportations. "Even in Nigeria, our own fatherland, we
      are being treated like outcasts," one said. They had received none of
      the compensation they had been promised for their property that had
      been destroyed in Libya.

      The Ghana Foreign Ministry said in a statement that about 1,500
      Ghanaians fled their homes as a result of the clashes. Ministry
      officials said that the numbers ejected from their houses during the
      riots and evacuated to security camps had been swollen by those who
      fled to the camp for fear of attacks. This, they added, had
      complicated plans to resettle them, warning of a risk of epidemics.

      15 Ghanaians were driven out of their homes in El-Zawia, about 45km
      from Tripoli, along with about 300 Nigerians and Chadians. The
      victims suffered wounds and burns, leaving some in a critical
      condition. The Libyan security forces are reported to have sent
      several of the victims, including children and pregnant women, to
      detention camps. Ghanaian newspapers said they had proof that one
      Ghanaian was found dead on the streets of Zenata, Sherigia and Dirbi
      almost everyday. A pregnant woman, interviewed by the Chronicle
      newspaper upon arrival in Ghana, said that Ghanaians could not walk
      freely on the streets of Libya or sit in public transport without
      being attacked and brutalized by Libyan security agents. "When you
      are in a taxi going to the market, they will bring you down and beat
      you for several hours before leaving you to continue your journey."

      Libyan regime

      The mistreatment of immigrants reveals the real state of social
      relations in Libya. Gadhafi has at times declared his regime to
      be "socialist", but an affluent elite rules Libya. Despite the
      country's oil wealth, the just over 5 million-strong Libyan
      population has received little of its benefits. According to the
      Economist magazine, a teacher is paid a mere $1,200 a year and health
      care provision in the country is so bad that those who can afford to
      travel to Tunisia for treatment.

      For decades immigrant workers, particularly black Africans, have been
      employed as labourers or in the most menial jobs, and are treated as
      second-class citizens. Now that there are signs of an increasing
      crisis in the Libyan economy, immigrants are being used as scapegoats
      and forced to leave.

      Whilst Western governments denounced Gadhafi for supporting various
      nationalist movements in the 1970s and 80s, the limited room for
      manoeuvre that he enjoyed during the Cold War period is now clearly
      at an end. In his latest speeches he has announced the "death of
      Western imperialism", calling for a new era of "collaboration", and
      used his influence to buy off the hostage-taking guerrillas in the
      Philippines. "When African leaders come asking for arms, I fund
      hospitals," he said in a recent speech. In fact there is evidence
      that Gadhafi is supplying arms to a number of African regimes,
      including Charles Taylor in Liberia. He is now attempting to put
      himself forward as the local facilitator for the Western powers in
      both Africa and the Middle East. A stream of Western diplomats and
      government ministers, mainly from countries in the European Union,
      have been visiting him and attempting to make business deals,
      particularly involving projects to repair the country's collapsing

      Gadhafi's plans have included ambitious schemes for both Arab and
      African unity, advancing himself as the leader of various areas of
      economic cooperation in the Maghreb or the Middle East. None of these
      plans have ever got beyond the stage of expensive diplomatic junkets.
      In recent years his attention has turned towards Africa, and his Pan-
      African speeches were taken at face value by the thousands of
      desperately poor Africans who flocked to work in Libya.

      On September 1, Gadhafi declared to nine assembled African heads of
      state that he would proclaim a "new USA", the "United States of
      Africa", at a summit to be held in Libya next year. However, the
      hollowness of Gadhafi's Pan-Africanist pretensions was rapidly
      reinforced by the brutal ethnic attacks and deportations that
      followed his declaration.

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