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Aid Agency: Africans Stranded in Tripoli in Peril

The International Organization for Migration says an increasing number of migrants in the Libyan capital, Tripoli, are in need of assistance and protection. The Geneva-based IOM reports sub-Saharan African migrants are among the most vulnerable.

The International Organization for Migration reports the situation in Tripoli is slowly improving. Nevertheless, security remains volatile, and the group says many migrants are afraid to move around freely in the capital.

A spokeswoman for IOM in Geneva, Jemini Pandya, says migrants are telling the group's representatives they are too scared to leave their temporary homes in Tripoli for fear of being arrested or killed. Some claim that even documented migrants are afraid to go out in search of food and water, because they have heard of others who have done so and disappeared.

Pandya says most migrants do not congregate in large numbers, to avoid being conspicuous or targeted. She says such security issues are hampering her group's access to sub-Saharan Africans - that migrants are afraid of the attention that a meeting with IOM might bring.

“While many of the migrants who are getting in touch with us ... want IOM to help them to leave Libya, there are others who do not. Among them are a group of 800 sub-Saharan Africans who are currently stranded at a fishing port on the Tripoli coast. And they are either too scared to return to their home countries and want asylum or they simply do not want to go back because there is no prospect of a livelihood if they do go back,” Pandya said.

The IOM has recently evacuated nearly 1,600 migrants and vulnerable Libyans by boat from Tripoli. Pandya says there were very few sub-Saharan Africans among them. This, she says, is because IOM has not been able to reach many migrants who live in the outskirts of the city, and few have been able to get to the port on their own.

Throughout the crisis, the IOM spokeswoman says, sub-Saharan Africans have been particularly subject to physical attacks, and some have been killed. She tells VOA many were targeted by people who believed they were mercenaries in the employ of Libya's former leader Moammar Gadhafi.

“Sub-Saharan Africans, they are either perceived to have been mercenaries or associated with mercenaries. So that is a possible reason for why they would be targeted. I’m not sure. I cannot really say that this is the case for every single story that we have heard. But certainly it is a factor,” Pandya said.

Before opposition forces gained control of Tripoli, evacuation by boat was the only safe route out of the city. That situation has eased now that the National Transition Commission is in charge.

IOM spokeswoman Pandya says transporting migrants out of the capital by road would be faster and more economical than by sea. But, she notes, moving around by road remains problematic because there are continuing risks of violence, and such travelers must pass through many security checkpoints.

Nevertheless, she says, IOM is planning for road evacuations, and is hopeful this can begin soon.