News / Africa

Thousands of Sub-Saharan Africans in Hiding in Libya

A Nigerian migrant worker who fled the unrest in Libya waits at the Libyan and Tunisian border crossing of Ras Jdir, March 3, 2011
A Nigerian migrant worker who fled the unrest in Libya waits at the Libyan and Tunisian border crossing of Ras Jdir, March 3, 2011
Joe DeCapua

Thousands of sub-Saharan Africans may be too scared to leave Libya. That’s according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), which said it is “increasingly concerned over the fate of vulnerable migrants.”

The IOM has been evacuating migrants from Tripoli by boat and giving them safe passage to Benghazi.

“We’ve noticed that in our three missions,” said IOM spokesman Jumbe Omari Jumbe, “very few sub-Saharan Africans have managed to come to the port and board our vessels. So we are really concerned. And of course we have a team on the ground now. They report to us that sub-Saharan Africans, in particular, are so afraid to get out because of all the barriers and roadblocks and because of the stories that they have been targeted.”


Since the beginning of the Libyan conflict, there have been reports and rumors that sub-Saharan Africans had been hired by Moammar Gadhafi as mercenaries.

“So they are holed up in various areas and unable to come to the port to board our vessels,” Jumbe said.

As for the rumors, Jumbe said they are still circulating. “We cannot confirm or deny them. Although those migrants who reached Tunisia and other border areas, they told us stories…that they have been targeted. Some of them have been mistreated, maltreated even, particularly along the road when they were fleeing. Most of them have lost their possessions.”


It remains unclear just how many sub-Saharan Africans remain in Libya.

“We don’t know for sure how many there are. The reason is many of those, particularly from neighboring countries – that is Niger, Mali and other countries – reached Libya in an irregular manner. I mean they have not registered. Some of them have no passport. And because of that they did not obviously go to their embassies to register themselves for fearing that (it) may be negative to them,” he said.

The IOM estimates before the conflict began, there were as many as one million sub-Saharan workers in Libya.

“With all those whom we have evacuated, we are still thinking that thousands of them are still in Libya, maybe 100,000, 200,000. I can’t tell. But thousands of them are still holed up in Libya.

What to do?

The IOM is negotiating with the new authority in Libya, the National Transitional Council, to gain access to the migrants.

“We know that most of them live in the suburbs of Tripoli in private farms, some of them,” he said. For example, on one farm, an IOM team found about 70 migrants, many of them Nigerian.

“They told our team that there are about 450 of their friends and relatives around that area. Many of these are young men, but there are those with families,” he said.

Since evacuating sub-Saharan migrants by boat has so far been unsuccessful, the IOM is also considering evacuating them by road.

“We are thinking seriously about road evacuation because that is cheaper, first, for us and also it is much safer. Because we can just go to the areas where they are, pick them up in our buses and off we go,” said Jumbe.

Before fighting reached Tripoli, there had been evacuations by land.

“These were largely organized by the diplomatic missions,” he said, “but not sub-Saharan African countries. So this time we want to do the evacuation, road evacuation, by ourselves, with IOM buses.”

Meanwhile, the IOM has so far evacuated about 1600 people from Tripoli in three separate boat missions. But it says there’s a growing sentiment among some migrants that the situation in the country is growing more stable, so they’ve chosen to remain in Libya.

You May Like

Video Russia’s Syrian Escalation Tests Obama’s Crisis Response

Critics once again question whether president has been slow to act on Syrian conflict, thus creating opening for powers like Russia More

Ancient African DNA Shows Mass Migration Back Into Africa

First genetic analysis of ancient human remains in Africa suggests massive migration from north around time of Egyptian empire More

NASA: Pluto Has Blue Sky

New photos also reveal the presence of water ice More

This forum has been closed.
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Hungary Criticized for Handling of Refugeesi
Henry Ridgwell
October 08, 2015 8:02 PM
Amnesty International has accused Hungary of breaking multiple international and European human rights laws in its handling of the refugee crisis. As Henry Ridgwell reports, thousands of migrants and refugees continue to travel through the Balkans to Hungary every day.

Video Hungary Criticized for Handling of Refugees

Amnesty International has accused Hungary of breaking multiple international and European human rights laws in its handling of the refugee crisis. As Henry Ridgwell reports, thousands of migrants and refugees continue to travel through the Balkans to Hungary every day.

Video Iraqi-Kurdish Teachers Vow to Continue Protest

Sixteen people were injured when police used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse teachers and other public employees who took to the streets in Iraq’s Kurdish north, demanding their salaries from the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG). VOA’s Dilshad Anwar, in Sulaimaniya, caught up with protesting teachers who say they have not been paid for three months. Parke Brewer narrates his report.

Video Syrian Village Community Faces Double Displacement in Lebanon

Driven by war from their village in southwestern Syria, a group of families found shelter in Lebanon, resettling en masse in a half-built university to form one of the biggest settlements of its kind in Lebanon. Three years later, however, they now face being kicked out and dispersed in a country where finding shelter as a refugee can be especially tough. John Owens has more for VOA from the city of Saida, also known as Sidon.

Video Bat Colony: Unusual Tourist Attraction in Texas

The action hero Batman might be everyone’s favorite but real bats hardly get that kind of adoration. Put more than a million of these creatures of the night together and it only evokes images of horror. Sarah Zaman visited the largest urban bat colony in North America to see just how well bat and human get along with each other.

Video Device Shows Promise of Stopping Motion Sickness

It’s a sickening feeling — the dizziness, nausea and vomiting that comes with motion sickness. But a device now being developed could stop motion sickness by suppressing certain signals in the brain. VOA’s Deborah Block reports.

Video Making a Mint

While apples, corn, and cranberries top the list of fall produce in the US, it’s also the time to harvest gum, candy, and toothpaste—or at least the oil that makes them minty fresh. Erika Celeste reports from South Bend, Indiana on the mint harvest.

Video Activists Decry Lagos Slum Demolition

Acting on a court order, authorities in Nigeria demolished a slum last month in the commercial capital, Lagos. But human rights activists say the order was illegal, and the community was razed to make way for a government housing project. Chris Stein has more from Lagos.

Video TPP Agreed, But Faces Stiff Opposition

President Barack Obama promoted the Trans-Pacific Partnership on Tuesday, one day after 12 Pacific Rim nations reached the free trade deal in Atlanta. The controversial pact that would involve about 40 percent of global trade still needs approval by lawmakers in respective countries. Zlatica Hoke reports Obama is facing strong opposition to the deal, including from members of his own party.

Video Ukranian Artist Portrays Putin in an Unusual Way

As Russian President Vladimir Putin was addressing the United Nations in New York last month, he was also being featured in an art exhibition in Washington. It’s not a flattering exhibit. It’s done by a Ukrainian artist in a unique medium. And its creator says it’s not only a work of art - it’s a political statement. VOA’s Tetiana Kharchenko has more.

Video Nano-tech Filter Cleans Dirty Water

Access to clean water is a problem for hundreds of millions of people around the world. Now, a scientist and chemical engineer in Tanzania (in East Africa) is working to change that by creating an innovative water filter that makes dirty water safe. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.

Video Demand Rising for Organic Produce in Cambodia

In Cambodia, where rice has long been the main cash crop, farmers are being encouraged to turn to vegetables to satisfy the growing demand for locally produced organic farm products. Daniel de Carteret has more from Phnom Penh.

Video Botanists Grow Furniture, with Pruning Shears

For something a bit out of the ordinary to furnish your home, why not consider wooden chairs, crafted by nature, with a little help from some British botanists with an eye for design. VOA’s Jessica Berman reports.

VOA Blogs