Africans Fleeing Libya

Date Publish: 
03/08/11
Region-Country: 
Tunisia / Africa and Middle East

The scene at the border crossing at Ras Djadir, three weeks since
the eruption of violence in Libya, is that of orderly reception of
those who are fleeing, thanks to the Tunisian government and people
who had launched their own relief operations and provided food,
transport and medical services. By the time I arrived, groups of 10
to 20 people were trickling in. Most of these were Bengalis and
Egyptians. They looked healthy and generally in good spirits.

Then I was drawn to the arriving group which was different. The
group was made up of about 50 young men. They all looked exhausted
and haggard. They were Ghanaian nationals.

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The one who seemed to be fluent in English, Boateng Aduah, said
he was brought to Libya two years ago by a human trafficker whom he
had paid USD 1,000. Once in Libya he took up casual jobs at
building sites. He said he had not planned to stay in Libya longer
than six months, a period he thought would have allowed him to earn
enough money for an onward trip to Europe.

"I worked a 13-hour shift but at the end of the month they pay
you only half of your wages," he said, adding that he had not been
paid for the past two months.

I wanted to know when exactly they decided to flee Libya.
Boateng said Libya had become untenable for people like himself
since word made rounds in the country that Libyan leader Moammar
Gaddafi had brought African mercenaries to fight for him. "We were
so scared that we did not dare to go out in daylight."

Boateng said rumours were awash in Tripoli that black people
were being targeted by the Libyan citizens who accuse them of
collaborating with Col. Gaddafi. He said he believed the stories on
the basis of past events preceding the current hostilities. He
said, even in peacetime, to be a black man in Tripoli draws
sneering and catcalls, which he said, can develop into open
hostilities. He reminded me of incidents in the 1990s when several
Ghanaians were targeted by Libyan soldiers.

I asked him about the group's flight from Tripoli. "On the night
of the flight, we phoned each other and agreed that we have to take
a chance,” he said. "We had spent a week indoors and our food
stocks had run out. We felt we had nothing to lose."

The men hired four cars to spirit them to the border with
Tunisia and agreed to pay 180 dinars (USD 147) each for the 160 km
ride. "It’s more than a 100 per cent hike. The normal fare
for the distance is only 25 dinars," he said.

The men carried with them their belongings – mostly TV
sets, music systems and clothes. But mainly they took with them
their savings. "Some of us had up to USD 5,000 accumulated over
years of hard work and sacrifices. We were not spending our money
easily. We won’t buy tablets for headache!" he said.

They set off from Tripoli before dawn, heading west towards the
Tunisian border. The route passed by the outskirts of the town of
Al zawiah, the scene of the current intensive fighting. Boateng
lost count of road blocks at which they had to stop, get searched
and depart again but estimates there were at least 20 of them.

"At each stop, you go through the same searching rituals. Only
when you resist the rhythm would change, as this could provoke
abuse, slapping or even being shot at," Boateng said. As with
others fleeing, he said, they too were stripped of many of their
belongings at these barriers. He said he lost USD 3,000 he had
earned over two years.

When I asked Boateng what he and the others plan to do, he
looked at me in the eyes and said, "I have never given up on the
dream of good life. I cannot achieve my dream in Ghana. How can I
get married, have children and send them to school when I am
jobless?"

While governments are working hard to repatriate their
nationals, Boateng said many people remain stranded and need urgent
help. Since 20th February, about 213,000 migrants have crossed
Libya’s borders with Tunisia, Egypt and Niger. IOM continues
to provide humanitarian assistance such as food, water, shelter,
medical care and medical travel assistance to migrants who have
fled Libya, while assisting in the evacuation of thousands of
others caught up in the crisis.

To help IOM to get Boateng and others like him home safely,
please click "_blank">here.

Bangladeshi migrant workers at Choucha transit centre in Tunisia wait to be transferred to Djerba airport where they will board flights that will take them home. © IOM 2011 (Photo: Craig Murphy)