Cornered in Free Libya: Black Refugees Say "We Are Being Treated Like Dogs"
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"We’ve walked all the way here to tell everybody that we are being treated like dogs," said 23-year old Hamuda Bubakar, among a couple of hundred black refugees protesting at Martyrs Square in Tripoli. "I’d rather be killed here. I wouldn’t be the first, or the last."
The refugees came to protest early this week from the barracks of Tarik Matar, a makeshift camp on the outskirts of Tripoli. "We’ve already spent more than two months in those horrible barracks," said Aisha who preferred not to give her full name.
A few days back, she said, "guerrilla fighters from Misrata (90 kilometres east of Tripoli) entered our place and took seven young guys with them. We still know nothing about them." Several women at the camp have been abducted and raped in recent weeks, she said.
"Raise your head, you're a free Libyan", the group chanted before a stage set up for the recent celebrations. That’s the very slogan that became almost an anthem for the rebels who rose against Gaddafi.
Tempers flared amid the group of armed soldiers guarding the central square. "I should kill you all for what you did to us in Misrata," shouted a young man in camouflage fatigues. The protesters are from Tawargha, 60 km south of Misrata, that was known as a Gaddafist base.
The armed men at the square, and angry honking soon split up the group.
"Not only do they call us Gaddafists, they hate us for the colour of our skin," said Abdulkarim Rahman. "All blacks in Libya are going through very hard times lately."
Abdurrahman Abudheer, a volunteer worker at one of the barracks that used to house construction workers for new apartment blocks, and that are now home to refugees, estimates there are about 27,000 Tawarghis scattered between Tripoli and Benghazi.
"Just in this camp there are over 200 families, all from Tawargha," said Abudheer. A flashy billboard at the entrance to the camp in the ghostly district Fallah still advertises the "upcoming construction of 1187 houses" by a Turkish company. But now even the grey rows of corrugated iron shacks look more comfortable than those naked and incomplete concrete structures.
The number of refugees is growing by the day, but so is the number of Tripolitanians like Abudheer who show up to help.
Amnesty International expressed concern in September over "increasing cases of violence and indiscriminate arrests against the people from Tawargha." It said tens of thousands of former residents of Tawargha may be living in conditions similar to those in Fallah, or worse.
"Many families arrive after spending days living on the beach," said Abudheer. "Most of them are afraid to even walk down the street."
The scene is similar in Tarik Matar, five minutes drive from Fallah. The most recent census at this camp figures 325 families from Tawargha.
From the room she shares with eight members of her family, Azma, a refugee from Tawargha, showed a portrait of her brother. On Sep. 13 Abdullah was taken from the car he was travelling in with his three children and his sister at a checkpoint on the outskirts of Tripoli.
The last they know of what happened to him is in the autopsy report Azma keeps with her: "Died from several injuries caused by solid and flexible objects throughout the body, especially in the forehead and chest."
Inevitably, the families of the seven young men recently dragged away from this camp fear a similar fate for them.
"We are asking for more security and for those from Misrata to be able to return to our houses without fear of reprisal," said Mabrouk Mohammed, a former physical education teacher who coordinates entry of food and supplies to the complex, mostly from private initiatives. But return to Tawargha is a forgotten dream for most.
Abdullah Fakir, head of Tripoli’s Military Council, had told IPS they would increase security at camps where the Tawarghis are staying. But with militias from Misrata showing up at the camps often, nobody feels secure.