Mistaken for mercenaries, Africans are trapped in Libya
African workers left behind as international companies evacuate and African embassies close are trapped in a Benghazi camp, too afraid to take the trek to Egypt's border.
(Page 2 of 2)
Many of the workers can't pay for a boat trip. Zakariya Sulemana, a painter from northern Ghana, has been working for a Turkish construction company for 10 months but was only paid for the first two. "I want to go anywhere, anywhere but here. But I have no money."Skip to next paragraph
In Pictures Libya uprising
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
Now, their only option is to ride free of charge with Libyan volunteers to the Egyptian border, a seven-hour drive.
In addition, many Africans don't trust Libyans to provide the transport. Yusuf Ojely, a 23-year-old geology student at Gar Younis University, helps to organize trips to the Egyptian border for the stranded camp residents. When he arrives at the camp, a disagreement breaks out immediately.
"You can't keep us safe! We will be attacked on the road! It's very far to Egypt," they protest. "They hate to see blacks on the road from Benghazi to Tobruk, they think we're mercenaries," says Abdulyakini. Mr. Ojely assures them that the drivers have security details. But that doesn't quell their fears.
The Libyan volunteers evacuated approximately 600 people on a recent night in a bus convoy with armed drivers. This is the third such trip from the camp at Gar Younis. No security incidents have been reported, and so far everyone has been able to cross the border into Egypt.
Still, many feel helpless in the camps, trapped by fear.
"We need help! We need help from the UN, from the EU! The AUC [African Union Commission] is useless!" shouts Harry Habibi, a Nigerian carpenter who was working in Darfoda. "The Europeans took their own people, the Africans don't pick up the phone at the embassies. If we go out on the street people will shoot us, they will cut us with knives. Let me die here, I am no better than those that are dead."
Migrants have long passed through Libya
But reports of Qaddafi's mercenaries was not the start of Africans' problems in Libya.
The country is a known route of illegal immigration from Africa to Europe. Its southern border runs nearly1,300 miles through the desert and is mostly unsecured from neighboring Sudan, Chad, and Niger. Its busy ports on the Mediterranean give cover to undocumented foreigners who cross into Europe.
"Many of the camp's residents are probably illegal immigrants trying to get to Italy," says Ahmed Hamad, an Egyptian delegate from the Arab Medical Union, who arrived in Benghazi last week with the first medical aid convoy from Egypt and has found health problems among members of the Gar Younis camp.
"Libya's southern borders have always been more or less open," says Iman Bugaighis, a dental professor at Gar Younis University who now volunteers at Benghazi's courthouse, where an unspecified number of Africans suspected of being mercenaries are being held awaiting trial.
"Most of them are not mercenaries," she says. "They may have gotten money to demonstrate for Qaddafi, or they might just be illegal immigrants. It is safer for them to be in the courthouse than out on the streets."