Unwanted African Immigrants in New Libya
Ben Boubakar Youssef - 12/07/2012
Both a host country and a place of transit for immigrants, Libya is by its geographical position located on an important migration route from Africa to Europe. However, since the conflict that rocked the country in 2011, the situation has completely changed and the presence of African immigrants is no longer tolerated in this North African country.
Coupled with the country’s socio-cultural realities, this geographical situation has given to this phenomenon of movement of people seeking a better life, a particular significance in this country.
With its huge hydrocarbon wealth providing colossal revenues and a population that barely reaches 6 million people, Libya has always been a special attraction for Africans who see it both as a haven and a transitional stage on their way to the other shore of the Mediterranean, Europe.
Beyond these considerations, the immigration of Sub-Saharan Africans in Libya has a very complex social dimension especially because of marital ties existing between Libyan tribes and those of some other neighbouring countries, like the Touareg of Nigeria and Mali as well as the Toubous of Chad. They often come from regions bordering the desert and which teem with longstanding networks of smugglers, rebels and terrorist groups.
With its 2,000 kilometres of coastline on the southern shore of the Mediterranean and its geographical position the country of Libya has become a large African door to Europe. Moreover, its vast borders on edge of the desert, with six African countries including Tunisia, Algeria and Egypt, but also Nigeria, Chad and Sudan offer immense opportunities for the fluxes of African immigrants.
This constant flow of African immigrants concerns not only the Africans in search of employment in Libya, but also and especially the thousands of irregular immigrants who continue to be attracted by the mirage of the European Eldorado.
The former regime of the late Colonel Muammar Gaddafi had made a business out of this reality, a business for its pan-African policy and an asset for pressure and negotiations with Western countries especially European ones.
This situation encouraged the Gaddafi regime to establish itself as a key contact in terms of European immigration issues on the continent as it waved like a scarecrow in order to receive concessions and to be accepted by the international community.
Thus, while sometimes wearing the hat of the gendarme of European coasts and then rejecting it in some other cases, Gaddafi's Libya had demanded Europe to fund initiatives for job creation in Africa in order to contribute to blur migration to the old continent.
However, the situation has radically changed during the conflict that erupted in the country in 2011. Considered as Gaddafi’s mercenaries whose African policy had brought nothing concrete to African nationals, the latter have become the scapegoat of Libyan rebels.
They were mercilessly hunted down during the conflict and when the capital city of Tripoli was taken, there were high concentrations of African communities trapped by the conflict. During this period, Africans have suffered the worst abuses.
They became unwanted in the country and during the demonstrations in Tripoli, the Libyan people denounced Gaddafi’s Pan-African policy and stated that they rejected the African continent including the African Union that had taken a long time to recognize the Tripoli’s new authorities.
The new Libya that needs to increase its working force has clearly opted to do without the Africans who offered a helping hand to contribute to the great work of reconstruction needed in the country.
Thus, to give an example, nationals of Bangladesh and other Asian countries are now doing the job of garbage collectors usually done by the Africans living across the Libyan cities and neighbourhoods. A Qatari company that won a market of over 4000 workers has brought this Asian workforce.
In addition, militias and rebels have started a systematic hunting to arrest and expulse Africans nationals.
Those who chose to continue living in Libya are forced to merge within the population by adopting the same way of dressing and women wear the veil even if they are Christians so as not to attract attention and risk expulsion under conditions that do not comply with international human rights procedures.
However, this policy can have a risky boomerang effect. Indeed, the thousands of starving Africans at the door of the Libyan Desert may one day invade Libya. At that time, weapons will be of no use to keep them back.
Would it not be better to offer work to citizens coming from neighbouring countries that represent a strategic depth for Libya instead of employing Asians whose presence has little meaning or impact on the country?
Ben Boubakar Youssef
Translated from French by Elizabeth Grech