TRIPOLI — On the coast outside Tripoli, a squalid refugee camp shelters hundreds of African migrants who found work under Libya’s former regime, but are now jobless, discriminated against and unable to return home.
Squatting in the derelict buildings of what was once a training centre for the ousted Libyan leader’s special forces, they face racist abuse, attacks and robberies as they wait each day, hoping someone will offer them work or bring emergency food handouts.
Clothes hang on makeshift washing lines. Piles of rubbish lie everywhere.
“Since we came here… we’ve been hoping, praying to God, believing one day maybe help will come from somewhere, because all we had has been taken,” said Anthony, who worked on a building site before the conflict forced him to seek refuge in Sidi Bilal.
“I’ve been beaten and robbed several times, even in the camp here… Sometimes, when we go out onto the streets, people start throwing stones at us because we’re black,” he added.
The camp’s 700 residents are mostly young Nigerian men who fled the capital two months ago when it fell to the revolutionary forces that last week crushed the final pockets of resistance by Moamer Kadhafi loyalists.
They are a tiny fraction of the number of people displaced by the conflict.
Over 700,000 migrant workers have left Libya since February, according to the International Organisation for Migration, but tens of thousands remain.
The Nigerians, the largest migrant community in Tripoli, found casual work before the city fell, washing cars or labouring on farms and building sites, jobs shunned by most Libyans.
But with many locals angered by claims that sub-Saharan mercenaries supported Kadhafi’s regime, they now face hostility in their host nation.
“It is a problem having the Africans here,” said Adil, one of the camp’s security guards.
“It’s not healthy. They don’t eat good food, they fight each other, and some of them came without passports, bringing diseases with them, only to cross into Europe.”
“The best solution is to send them back to their country,” added the former fighter from Zawiyah.
Most of the camp’s residents say they plan to return home following Kadhafi’s ouster, because they no longer feel safe.
But without cash or passports — Nigeria does not have a consular representative in Tripoli — they are currently unable to do so, stuck in a limbo with no way forward or backwards.
“Some of them don’t want to go back. They’ve risked everything to make it this far,” said Jeremy Haslam, the IOM’s chief of mission in Libya.
“But there are others who are eager to return, and they are desperately hoping that their temporary travels permits will be issued soon.”
There are growing concerns among the humanitarian community that Libya’s immigration policy will be tightened by the National Transitional Council.
The new regime is already believed to be restricting aid to the camp, fearing that it may become a permanent settlement.
“We believe that since Libya is free from the past government, it should be a free Libya for everyone,” said Anthony, one of the few residents who plans to tough it out.
“Going back to my family empty handed would not be a good idea for me. So I think I prefer to stay here, to try to make some money to take care of them,” he said.
But most in the camp see no future for themselves in the new Libya.
“I came here to work and make money for my family. But when the crisis started everything changed. Now I just want to go home and start my life afresh,” said Larry, a 33-year-old father of three.
‘We Were Raped, Robbed by Libyan Rebels’
By Michael Olugbode in Maiduguri
Thirty days in the desert after fleeing the crisis-torn Libya, 450 Nigerians yesterday arrived Maiduguri, Borno State, with tales of rape, torture and loss of their personal effects to the fighters opposed to the regime of late Col. Muammar Gaddafi.
Over 300 others were said to be still languishing in Ndjamena, the capital of neighbouring Chad Republic.
The Nigerians, who looked dirty and unkept, arrived Gamboru, a border town between Nigeria and Chad, early yesterday morning.
And after undergoing the necessary immigration processes, proceeded to Maiduguri from where some of them left for their various states.
Some of them, who arrived the country without any money on them, had to seek refuge from the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) which was alerted as to their entry into the country by Immigration officials.
The NEMA officials subsequently arranged accommodation for them at the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) orientation camp within Maiduguri metropolis.
Narrating her ordeal, Splendid Eze, who claimed that she had been in Libya since the last four years, said at the peak of the revolution, she had to take refuge at the United Nations camp in Saba, Libya for two months.
Eze said she was repatriated alongside 450 others from the camp on 28 September and they were made to take the long and tortuous journey through the desert.
She said before leaving the camp at Saba, they faced various hazardous situations including sleeping in the open and getting hit by bullets from the warring factions.
According to her, they did not fare better on the journey back home as they “were robbed and raped by the rebels”.
She said: “I was robbed of my US$1000 and some of those in my company were robbed of their valuables including laptops and handsets.”
Another returnee, Obire Matthew Tony, said they were packed in a truck like sardines and sent on the long and tortuous journey through the desert to Nigeria.
He revealed that they had a stopover for three days in Ndjamena where they were accommodated by the International Organisation for Immigration and subsequently sent to Nigeria by the organisation.
He alleged that the Nigerian ambassador to Chad avoided them like plague and at no time came to their assistance.
Speaking to journalists on what plan the agency has for the returnees, the Zonal Coordinator of the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), Alhaji Aliyu Sambo, said they would be kept at the camp, fed and transported to their various states after their respective state emergency management agencies must have been approached.
On how the agency got to know of their arrival, Sambo revealed that they were alerted by the Immigration officials at the Gamboru border and the agency immediately started making preparations for them.
He said quite a number of them arrived the country early in the morning and came to Maiduguri around noon, but some had since left for their various destinations since they could not be held back against their wishes.
He further disclosed that the returnees were the first batch and others were still being expected to come through the Gamboru border into the country.