RAS JDIR CAMP, Tunisia (Reuters) - Libyan troops loyal to Muammar Gaddafi are rounding up black African migrants to force them to fight anti-Gaddafi rebels, young African men who fled to Tunisia said Monday.
In separate accounts at this refugee camp, they said they were raided in their homes by soldiers, beaten and robbed of their savings and identity papers, then detained and finally offered money to take up arms for the state.
Those who refused were told they would never leave, said Fergo Fevomoye, a 23-year-old who crossed the border 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.
He said Africans who are first intimidated and stripped of everything were then offered 250 Libyan dinars ($200) to train as fighters.
“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,” he told Reuters.
The Libyan government has denied using foreign nationals to fight the rebels, saying instead that dark-skinned Libyans serving in its security forces had been mistaken for African mercenaries.
When protests against Gaddafi’s government led to violence three weeks ago, rebels spread reports that the Libyan leader had brought in African mercenaries from such states as Chad and Zimbabwe.
But the suggestion that trained, uniformed troops were being flown in to help suppress the revolt has not been proven.
The accounts now emerging of how some black migrants are successfully being forced into taking up arms for the Libyan state may be one explanation of these reports of black fighters.
Whatever the truth, Nigerian and Ghanaians in this transit camp all say they were suddenly very afraid to show their faces in the cities of western Libya where they worked, in case they were taken for mercenaries or dragooned by government troops.
Obinna Obielu, an electrician who had worked in Libya for 12 years and said he had saved 10,000 dollars, escaped with his two friends and their wives and two babies in an old Land Cruiser.
Obielu said the main road from Zawiyah, 50 km (30 miles) west of Tripoli was too dangerous, and he had driven through the bush close 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.”
Daniel Chibuzor and Tijanx Sadiki also recounted how they were raided and robbed at home and left with no papers and no money for food, terrified of appearing on the streets, before they decided to risk traveling west to Tunisia.
A baby daughter, Ability, and infant son, Miracle, traveled with the group. Ability needed treatment at the Tunisian Army’s mobile hospital for tear-gas inhalation.
Nigerian Ike Emanuel, who made it to the safety of Tunisian territory last week after burying his six-month-old baby in the desert, said he had talked to many of the latest arrivals among his countrymen and heard the same theme: Africans were being trapped and forced to either fight or flee.
Over 105,000 migrant workers have fled from Libya into Tunisia in the past 10 days, most of them Egyptians but also including some 20,000 Bangladeshis. The Egyptians have since been repatriated by airlift, after making angry protests about the Cairo government’s alleged inaction.
The Bangladeshis and thousands of west Africans remain in the United Nations refugee agency’s transit camp, which is being prepared for a possible influx of refugees the agency fears may be trapped inside Libya but desperate to escape.
Fergo Fevomoye said it was a sympathetic Libyan policeman who eventually helped him escape, “because if not I am going to stay here 20 years, I am going to die here.”
Editing by Angus MacSwan