The conflict that began in Libya on 17 February 2011 with a popular revolt against Gaddafi’s regime has triggered a mass exodus of the civilian population into neighbouring countries. Hundreds of thousands of people have fled, mainly into Tunisia and Egypt, as a result of attacks by Gaddafi’s forces on civilian populations, the rebellion and NATO bombings. Migrant workers and refugees from Sub-Saharan Africa have been particular targets of violence.
The vast majority of those who have fled were immigrants working in Libya: over 500,000 persons originating from Egypt, Tunisia, Bangladesh, Pakistan and China and numerous Sub-Saharan African countries.
The FIDH report, based on the findings of a mission to the Egypt-Libya border, reveals the vulnerable situation of refugees and migrants stranded at the Salloum Land Port and presents numerous accounts of violence targeting Sub-Saharan African migrants in Eastern Libya.
Stranded at the border
As in Tunisia, the Egyptian government has maintained open borders to those fleeing Libya. But the right to enter does not mean the right to remain, with the exception of those with Libyan nationality, who until now have been allowed to settle temporarily. Nationals of other countries wait at the border, in deplorable and degrading conditions, pending evacuation to their countries of origin or - for those who cannot return - resettlement in host countries.
“This is the second time that these people have been forced to become refugees”, explains Geneviève Jacques, FIDH mission delegate. “Having fled to Libya to escape conflicts or persecution in Darfur, Somalia, Ethiopia or Eritrea, they cannot return home. But too few countries have offered places for resettlement. As for France, the Minister of the Interior has issued a public declaration, categorically refusing to resettle a single refugee from the conflict in Libya. This is unacceptable and shameful. While several EU countries are intervening in Libya and claim to support democratic transition in Tunisia and Egypt, the EU has not taken any initiative to receive refugees and relieve the countries of first arrival”.
Targeted violence against immigrants from Sub-Saharan Africa
The evidence gathered by the FIDH mission points to widespread and systematic abuses and racially motivated violence targeting Sub-Saharan Africans in Eastern Libya. FIDH interviewed over 50 migrants who had fled Benghazi and other areas in Eastern Libya who reported that black Africans, accused of being mercenaries for Gaddafi, had been attacked, robbed, sometimes raped and killed. “The fatal amalgam “black equals mercenary” has been used to justify insults, termination of employment without pay, torture and other degrading acts committed by armed Libyans in the zone under rebel control,” stated Genevieve Jacques, “All those we interviewed reported that they had been forced to leave their jobs and flee Libya because they feared for their lives”.
These crimes are committed with impunity. There are no investigations in Libya into these allegations. FIDH transmitted the findings of this report to the National Interim Council, calling for independent and effective investigations in accordance with Libya’s obligations under international law. The Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court has stated that such crimes may amount to war crimes and therefore fall within the jurisdiction of the Court. FIDH calls on the ICC to pursue investigations into these crimes.