How Qaddafi helped fuel fury toward Africans in Libya
During the past few weeks of uprising in Libya, hundreds of African migrant workers have been detained, beaten, or harassed by Libyans due to reports that African mercenaries are fighting for Muammar Qaddafi.
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“Day in and out we couldn’t sleep,” says Ibrahim Zachariah, steel fixer from the West African nation of Ghana who made it home last week after braving the threat of violence to leave Libya. “We wore our shoes when we slept, because we knew anything could happen at any time.”Skip to next paragraph
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Mr. Zachariah had been living in Benghazi for two years before the uprising began last month. He worked for a construction company, making three times more than he would in Ghana and hoped to save for a house. He said his situation grew dire after the company management ran and left the workers behind without paying them their wages.
Zachariah and the other employees lived within the company's compound for days as gunshots were fired outside. He says anti-Qaddafi mobs broke into the compound where there were many African migrant workers, stole their money and burned their clothes and the machines.
“This is all I brought to Ghana,” he said pointing to his clothes. “I lost everything.”
Zachariah and his friend paid for a seat in a car to the Egyptian border and traveled with two Chadians. Zachariah said the Chadians were forced to get out of the car by opposition forces at a roadblock and he and his friend were allowed to continue on to the border because they were Ghanaian. Qaddafi has a known history of lavishing the nation's wealth to build connections with leaders in neighboring Chad, but has no such history in Ghana, which is much further from Libya.
'They call you a slave'
Hussein Zachariah, a welder from Ghana who worked for a Turkish construction company in Benghazi for three years before conflict began, says he was often verbally abused on the street and had stones thrown at him.
“They say a lot of things about you,” says Mr. Zachariah, no relation to Ibrahim Zachariah. “They call you a slave.”
He claimed that his friend was accused of being a mercenary fighter and that he witnessed him being severely beaten by “protesters” on the street.
Racism nothing new in Libya
Racism toward migrant laborers from sub-Saharan Africa is not a new phenomenon in Libya.
In 2000 the Brussels-based International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU) condemned attacks and alleged killings of migrant workers from Ghana, Cameroon, Sudan, Niger, Burkina Faso, Chad and Nigeria allegedly by young Libyans targeting black migrants particularly in the East of the country, after the government ordered a crackdown on illegal migrant workers. According to a statement made in 2000 by the ICFTU the attacks “were provoked by news portraying African migrants as being involved in drug-trafficking or dealing in alcohol.”
Human Rights Watch also documented racist attacks on migrant workers and asylum seekers from sub-Saharan in Libya in 2006 and 2009. The United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) has long put pressure on Libya to address the issue of racial discrimination against black African migrants. The issue of racial discrimination against black Africans was most recently raised at the United Nations Human Rights Council in February of 2010.