Tripoli/Washington, D.C. – More than 600 migrants from sub-Saharan Africa are effectively stranded at a port just outside the Libyan capital, and have been left to fend for themselves by Libyan authorities. Despite repeated attacks, harassment, and arbitrary arrests by Libyan gangs over the course of four months, they have received no protection from the National Transitional Council (NTC). Refugees International calls on the NTC and all local authorities - including the civilian councils in Janzour and Tripoli, and the Tripoli Military Council - to intervene immediately to protect the population at Sidi Bilal port and ensure their safe relocation to a temporary site.
“The men in these camps are routinely harassed and accused of being pro-Gaddafi mercenaries, the women are targets of sexual abuse. All face intimidation by armed Libyan thugs who drive into the port at night firing guns into the air,” said Matt Pennington, an advocate for Refugees International currently in Libya. “Of course, many migrants told us they don't really want to leave Libya - since they have nothing to return to in their home countries. But even for those who want to stay in Libya, their situation is becoming intolerable.”
Since the earliest reports of pro-Gaddafi militias being brought in from West Africa, many Libyans have viewed the country's 1.5 million dark-skinned migrant workers with suspicion - and sometimes, with open hostility. Many have fled or been evacuated since the start of the conflict. In April, a Refugees International report highlighted the vulnerabilities of sub-Saharan Africans in Libya, and called on the NTC to provide protection in compliance with international humanitarian law.
But the migrants in Sidi Bilal remain effectively abandoned near Tripoli, largely because leaders in local communities refuse to accept them. The majority of migrants RI spoke to now refuse to leave the port because of the violence and intimidation they face outside.
"We don't care about Gaddafi. We don't give an [expletive] about that," a Gambian migrant told Refugees International. "That is for them [the Libyans]. We don't care about politics."
The disorganization of NTC authorities is partly to blame for the lack of action in Sidi Bilal, Mr. Pennington stated. "But a bigger problem is that the NTC and local authorities are unwilling to take a stand against some Libyans' irrational fear of these migrants. What kind of message does that send about the NTC's commitment to human rights?"
In the last week alone, two migrants were wounded by Libyan gunfire at the port. "Libyans say they are fighting for what? Freedom?" one Nigerian complained. "If they [the Libyans] come again, we are willing to fight. The oppression is too much."
So far, the UN World Food Programme has delivered one food drop to the imperilled migrants, while the UN Refugee Agency and the International Organization for Migration have been attempting to negotiate safe relocation for those who want to stay and repatriation for those who want to return home. But what the population of Sidi Bilal most urgently needs is protection, and Libyan and UN authorities must act swiftly to provide it.