World News

African workers live in fear after Gaddafi overthrow

TRIPOLI (Reuters) - Nigerian Festus Prince said he took his family and ran after he saw a Libyan gang shoot his brother in the head for refusing to hand over money.

His tale is just one of several told by Africans at a camp near Tripoli describing intimidation or outright violence as forces fighting Muammar Gaddafi entered Tripoli.

Prince, one of Libya’s army of foreign workers, survived the ordeal at the cost of everything he had earned as a decorator in the country.

“A group of men broke through my door and asked for the money. I handed it over, and in a few seconds I lost everything I had worked for seven years,” the 28-year-old said.

“My brother didn’t give them his money. They told me to move out of the way, and they made him lie down. Then they shot him in the head,” added Prince, who counts the clothes he wears at a camp outside the Libyan capital as his only possessions.

Tens of thousands of foreign workers have fled Libya since the armed revolt against Gaddafi’s 42-year-rule began in February, with Africans afraid they have become targets for fighters who accuse them of being mercenaries for Gaddafi.

This antipathy appears to have spread to all Africans, leaving them vulnerable to attacks, robbery and other abuse by the gun-toting, mostly young, fighters who ousted Gaddafi.

Identity cards of nationals from Chad, Niger, Mali, Sudan and other African states have been found on the bodies of gunmen who anti-Gaddafi fighters say were paid to confront them.

Reporters saw the bodies of 22 men of apparent African origin at a Tripoli beach Saturday, people who locals said were mercenaries killed by anti-Gaddafi fighters.

Elsewhere in Libya, dead men of African origin have been a common sight since the uprising, as has been the sight of ill treatment of Africans by Libyan anti-Gaddafi fighters.


Hundreds of Africans have gathered for safety at the camp, based at a port, after fleeing what they described as robberies and attacks by young Libyan men, just before and after the rebels entered Tripoli on August 21.

People at the camp said they had struggled to find food and water while hiding in Tripoli, and supplies were even scarcer at the camp, where many have taken refuge under the hulls of boats on the dock and in a broken and dirty swimming pool complex.

As in Prince’s case, some people said their attackers were not wearing the military outfits of anti-Gaddafi fighters.

However, treatment by men in uniform could also be brutal. Keith Murray, a Nigerian, said he and two friends were in a taxi that was stopped by anti-Gaddafi fighters.

“They found a military sweater in the trunk of car. They took us out of the car and started shouting violently that they were going to kill us. They searched us and took our mobile phones. I prayed to God to help me,” the 38-year-old said.

Blood spurted from the head of the driver, a black Libyan, after he was struck with a rifle butt, before all four were bound at gunpoint and ordered to lie down for six hours. Murray still has bruises on his wrists left by the rope.

Other anti-Gaddafi fighters protested at their treatment, Murray said, before they were taken to a senior commander in another car. Their captors deliberated on whether to kill them before they got there, he added.

“The commander asked whether they had any evidence. They hadn’t even brought the sweater, so the commander told them to let us go, give us water and drive us back to our doorstep. The driver apologized for our treatment. They’re not all bad,” Murray said.


Libya’s National Transitional Council has consistently ordered its fighters to respect the human rights of suspected pro-Gaddafi fighters and mercenaries.

Some people at the camp said racism was behind their ill-treatment, although black Libyans can often be seen in the anti-Gaddafi fighters’ ranks.

The abuse appears more based on xenophobia and the link between Africans and mercenaries.

People at the camp are in a precarious position, and one humanitarian worker said infections and disease were spreading.

The camp, one of a number around Tripoli, has no security, and the humanitarian worker said he had treated wounds consistent with the kind of attacks camp residents say are conducted by young Libyan men in raids on the camp.

Anaezi Dirius, a 22-year-old Nigerian, had a red-raw gash behind his left knee, suffered after he was accosted by four Libyan men asking for his money Monday. One had crept behind him and slashed him with a knife, he said.

One woman said other women had been raped.

None of the camp residents spoken to by Reuters wanted to remain in Libya, or the African continent, citing the conflict or poor economic conditions in their home countries. All wanted international bodies to resettle them in the West.

“The Libyans betrayed my trust for them ... I don’t want to see Libya again. Everything I worked for is gone,” Prince said.

Editing by Richard Valdmanis and David Stamp