It is now being reported that troops loyal to Muammar Gaddafi are grabbing black African migrant workers in Libya and forcing them to fight against the anti-Gaddafi rebels. This latest information is being reported to the Reuters news-wire from a refugee camp in Tunisia where many of these young African men who have managed to escape and flee from war-torn Libya.
Beaten Then Recruited
The men described being raided while in their homes by Libyan soldiers, beaten and then relieved of their savings, identity papers and other possessions. They were then held in custody and offered payment to fight on behalf of Libya and Colonel Gaddafi. Refusal to agree was met with threats that they would never be allowed to leave.
Gaddafi’s government denies such tactics, and has explained the sudden presence of dark-skinned soldiers in the army as neither African mercenaries nor detained migrant workers, but as “dark-skinned” Libyan nationals.
Black Workers Forced Into Service
Rebels began spreading the rumor that Gaddafi had brought in African mercenaries from places such as Chad and Zimbabwe when the fighting began three weeks ago, but these rumors have never been proven. Now it seems clear that the best explanation for the appearance of the ‘dark-skinned’ soldiers is the joining of the African migrants in the fight on the side of Gaddafi.
Over the past 10 days more than 105,000 migrant workers have escaped from Libya to Tunisia, a majority of who are Egyptians, but also about 20,000 workers from Bangladesh. The Egyptians have been repatriated, but the Bangladeshis as well as thousands of west Africans are populating the UN transit camp that has been established for them in Ras Jdir, Tunisia.
Tales of Escape to Tunisia
Twenty-three year old Fergo Fevomoye was able to cross the border into Tunisia on Sunday:
“They will give you a gun and train you like a soldier. Then you fight the war of Libya. As I am talking to you now there is many blacks in training who say they are going to fight this war. They have prized (paid) them with lots of money. They said I should take money and fight. They would give me 250 dinars. I said no. When I told them No they told me I would not go anywhere.”
Another refugee, Obinna Obielu was an electrician in Libya for 12 years. During that time he managed to save 10,000 dollars. He managed to escape with two friends, their two wives and two babies in an old Land Cruiser. Because the main road was too dangerous he drove through the bush adjacent to the frontier.
“I go off, because it is not a good road. Because they are attacking people and sending them back to go and fight in the war,” he said. “The car is left back there.”
Two other refugees, Daniel Chibuzor and Tijanx Sadiki told how Libyan troops stormed their home, robbed them and left them with no money or identity papers. They described being terrified of appearing in the streets until they finally decided their best option was to head west to Tunisia. One of the two babies that travelled with them out of Libya was treated for tear-gas inhalation.
Ike Emanuel from Nigeria described how he buried his six month old baby in the desert as he was fleeing Libya. He said that he has spoken to many refugees in the week since he arrived at the camp and has discovered the recurring story of African workers being trapped and having to choose between fighting or fleeing.