News / Middle East

Deepening Divides Stop Libyan Families from Returning Home

A road sign pointing to the town of Tawergha, a former bastion of support for Moammar Gadhafi, has been painted over with
A road sign pointing to the town of Tawergha, a former bastion of support for Moammar Gadhafi, has been painted over with "Misrata," in Arabic, as part of score-settling following Libya's eight-month civil war.
Reuters
Every day, Ibtisam Mohammed Salem's children ask her when they will go back to their home in the abandoned Libyan town of Tawergha. Although she wants to reassure them, she fears they will have a long wait.

Salem, 32, and her family were among thousands of residents of the town - used as a base by Moammar Gadhafi during the country's 2011 uprising - who fled when victorious rebels charged in.

More than a year on, the people of Tawergha are still stuck in limbo, homeless and, they say, abandoned by a country that has unfairly branded them as supporters of the fallen autocrat.

They say they fear persecution, revenge attacks and arbitrary arrest if they return - the legacy of a war that has sharpened divisions in the oil-producing nation and raised fears of reprisals in other former Gaddafi bastions including Sirte and Bani Walid.

Salem, her husband Ali and their two young children are now camped in a former dormitory of a naval academy in the capital Tripoli. Other bands of Tawergha residents fled east to Benghazi and south to other smaller settlements to shelter in construction sites and empty buildings.

"There is no security for people to return to Tawergha. This is the reality - we are limited, we have no freedom,'' said Salem, sitting in the room Ali jokingly calls "five stars'' because it has a bathroom and balcony that serves as a kitchen.

They say they are being punished for coming from a town that Gadhafi's forces used as a base to bombard rebels positions 50 km (31 miles) away in the coastal city of Misrata during the country's uprising.

Displaced Libyans from the city of Tawergha live in prefabricated houses for workers at a construction site on the outskirts of Benghazi July 9, 2012.Displaced Libyans from the city of Tawergha live in prefabricated houses for workers at a construction site on the outskirts of Benghazi July 9, 2012.
x
Displaced Libyans from the city of Tawergha live in prefabricated houses for workers at a construction site on the outskirts of Benghazi July 9, 2012.
Displaced Libyans from the city of Tawergha live in prefabricated houses for workers at a construction site on the outskirts of Benghazi July 9, 2012.
Tawerghans say they were held hostage by Gadhafi's men and only a few served voluntarily in his forces.

Like many people from Tawergha, their skin is darker than that of their neighbors. That too has counted against them.

Rebels say Gadhafi was backed by "African'' mercenaries from as far afield as Sudan and some are still seeking revenge.

"My family never had anything to do with the Gaddafi regime but we are paying a price for something we are not responsible for ... This is collective punishment,'' said Ali.

Healing old wounds

Rights groups have said Misrata rebels, seeking revenge, looted and destroyed homes in Tawergha and nearby farming villages after Gaddafi's shelling campaign.

Human Rights Watch has said about 1,300 people from Tawergha are detained, missing or dead, and abuses committed against Tawerghans "may amount to crimes against humanity and could be prosecuted by the International Criminal Court''.

The reported violence underlines the challenge Libya's new rulers face reconciling grievances and embracing those who chose not to back the revolt - either out of fear or because they genuinely supported Gaddafi.

With police and courts weak and guns everywhere, Libyans have settled their own scores and clashes have broken out between former rebels and clans that fought alongside Gaddafi or stayed on the sidelines.

The government says it is working to promote reconciliation.

"I believe all will return to normal,'' Social Affairs Minister Kamla Khamis Mazini told Reuters. "Libyan people are merciful and this anger will recede soon. In Misrata, we have elders we can rely on to settle this,'' she added.

But Misrata residents said they were more interested in getting justice for the killings and rapes and other atrocities they suffered during the conflict.

"You cannot speak of reconciliation before justice can be done for the Misrati people ... The wound is still bleeding and unless it heals, it is very difficult to talk to people,'' said Ramadan Awad Benruwin, a member of Misrata's local council.

Libyan Tawergha woman is seen in a refugee camp at the outskirts of Benghazi, Libya, March 7, 2012.Libyan Tawergha woman is seen in a refugee camp at the outskirts of Benghazi, Libya, March 7, 2012.
x
Libyan Tawergha woman is seen in a refugee camp at the outskirts of Benghazi, Libya, March 7, 2012.
Libyan Tawergha woman is seen in a refugee camp at the outskirts of Benghazi, Libya, March 7, 2012.
While some Tawerghans say they maintain old friendships with Misratans via social media sites, they do so in secret. Many in Misrata say Tawerghans can not return and, for now, officials in Tripoli have proved powerless to insist otherwise.

"Guantanamo is better than this"

 Fed up with waiting, some former Tawergha residents say they will return in June to the ghost town, even though state security forces are too weak to protect them.

Among the rubbish-strewn camps where the Tawerghans now live, often in fear of eviction, the discontent is simmering.

At Tripoli's Fellah building site, about 1,060 stay in workers' dormitories. Only a few earn money doing odd jobs - most worked in Misrata before.

Inside, families sleep on beds or floors laden with suitcases, mattresses and blankets.

"Guantanamo is better than this,'' said Omar Mohammed, who lives with his family of six in one room. "Our future is dark but I can't say anything or they will call us Gaddafi supporters.''

Tawergha, once known for its dates, is eerily quiet. Houses and apartment blocks are riddled with holes.

Empty bullet shells are scattered on the dusty ground among sandals, broken plates, milk cartons and clothes. The wall of a mosque is sprayed with graffiti - "Misrata is strong''.

"I haven't seen my home since August 2011. I know it is destroyed,'' said Moad, a 23-year-old man in Fellah."But I want to return and rebuild it. I want to go back to my land.''

You May Like

Italian Red Cross Chief: Don't Label Migrants 'Illegal'

Speaking at the United Nations headquarters in New York Wednesday Francesco Rocca says migrants are victims, not criminals More

US Intel Officials Cautious About New IS Threat

Threat, said to have been posted by alleged American member of Islamic State terror group, says Sunday’s attack in Texas ‘is only the beginning’ More

Eyes in Sky Monitor Weather, Predict Epidemics

Satellites track storms, population movements, ocean warming to predict disease conditions More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Mass Grave Exposes Entrenched Trafficking in Thailandi
X
May 05, 2015 5:50 PM
Police in southern Thailand have found two more camps believed to have held human trafficking victims -- one containing a buried skeleton. This comes just days after officials announced arrests in connection with the grisly discovery of 26 bodies in a mass grave at another location. Officials suspect as many as 400 mostly ethnic Rohingya from Myanmar were being held for ransom at the remote camp near the Malaysian border. Steve Sandford reports on developments in the case.
Video

Video Mass Grave Exposes Entrenched Trafficking in Thailand

Police in southern Thailand have found two more camps believed to have held human trafficking victims -- one containing a buried skeleton. This comes just days after officials announced arrests in connection with the grisly discovery of 26 bodies in a mass grave at another location. Officials suspect as many as 400 mostly ethnic Rohingya from Myanmar were being held for ransom at the remote camp near the Malaysian border. Steve Sandford reports on developments in the case.
Video

Video Russia's 'Victory Day' Glory Over Nazis Overshadowed by Ukraine

ussia is preparing to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II, known since the Soviet era as “The Great Patriotic War,” with a massive parade on May 9th of military hardware and millions of medals handed out to veterans or their relatives. But critics say the Soviet-style display of power and nationalism overshadows tragic scars during and after the war that still influence politics and foreign policy, especially in the current Ukraine crisis.
Video

Video WWII Anniversary Brings Old Friends and New Worries

The 70th anniversary of the end of World War II has special significance, with Russia becoming more assertive in Ukraine and sending its military planes to the edges of western countries’ airspace. Changes in the geostrategic balance and the transatlantic relationship are felt across the continent, not least in German towns that have hosted U.S. military bases since the defeat of Nazi Germany. VOA’s Al Pessin visited Schweinfurt, Germany, where a large base closed last year.
Video

Video Abraham Lincoln Funeral Re-created for 150th Civil War Anniversary

Over the last four years, commemorative events to mark the 150th anniversary of the U.S. Civil War have brought thousands of visitors to battlefields and historic landmarks across the country. As VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports from the Midwest state of Illinois, the final event in the Civil War's sesquicentennial honors the final journey home of the slain American President, Abraham Lincoln.
Video

Video Campaign Raises Money to 'Uncuff' Journalists

Beginning Sunday – World Press Freedom Day – the Committee to Protect Journalists, a private U.S. group, is launching a campaign to bring attention to their plight and encourage efforts to free them. Deborah Block reports.
Video

Video Volunteers Pull Together to Aid Baltimore Riot Victims

Calm has returned to Baltimore, Maryland, after authorities lifted an overnight curfew imposed almost a week ago to stem the rioting that followed the funeral of Freddie Gray - the 25-year-old black man who died of spinal injuries suffered while in police custody. Six police officers, three of them African-American, have been charged in connection with his death. Baltimore is now trying to get back to normal, in part with the help of volunteers who responded to calls to help those in the city'
Video

Video From Aleppo To Berlin: Band of Brothers Escapes Civil War

Hundreds of thousands of Syrians have fled the civil war in their country and journeyed to Europe by boat across the Mediterranean. It is a terrifying ordeal with dangers at every turn. A group of Syrian brothers and their friends describe their ordeal as they try to reach Germany. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports. ...
Video

Video Rural Nepal Suffers Brunt of Quake’s Devastation

Nepal is still coming to grips with the full extent of the devastation and misery caused by last Saturday’s magnitude 7.8 earthquake. Some of the hardest-hit communities have been cut off by landslides making it difficult to assess the precise toll. A VOA News crew has been among the first to reach a few of the smaller, remote communities. Correspondent Steve Herman reports from the Sindhupolchak district, east of Kathmandu, which suffered greatly in Nepal’s worst quake in more than 80 years.
Video

Video Obama Praises Work of 3 Immigrant Journalists

President Barack Obama met with three immigrant journalists at the White House Friday to praise them for their work ahead of World Press Freedom Day, May 3. In attendance: Dieu Cay (his pen name) a blogger from Vietnam recently released from prison; Lily Mengesha from Ethiopia who was harassed and detained for exposing the marrying off of young girls as child brides, and Fatima Tlisova, an ethnic Circassian from the North Caucasus region of Russia, who works for VOA's Russian Service.
Video

Video Middle East Atheist Channel Defies Taboo

In Egypt, a deeply religious country in a deeply religious region, atheism is not only taboo, it is dangerous. It is sometimes even criminal to publicly declare nonbelief. Despite the danger, one group of activists is pushing back with a new online channel that defends the right not to believe. VOA’s Heather Murdock reports.
Video

Video Nepal Quake Survivors Tell Their Stories

Against all hope, rescuers have found a few more survivors of the devastating earthquake that hit Nepal last Saturday. Mountain climbers and hikers trapped in remote places also have been airlifted to safety, and aid is finally reaching people in the areas closest to the quake's epicenter. Survivors and rescuers are now recounting their experience. Zlatica Hoke has this story.
Video

Video Lessons for Germany, Europe Remain on Anniversary of WWII's End

The 70th anniversary of the end of World War II will be marked May 8-9 in all European countries except Germany, which lost the war. How is the war viewed there, and what impact is it still having? From Berlin, VOA’s Al Pessin reports.
Video

Video Nepal Town Destroyed By Quake Counts Itself Lucky

Foreign search teams on Wednesday began reaching some of the communities outside Kathmandu that suffered worse damage than Nepal’s capital from last Saturday’s massive earthquake. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman is in Sankhu - a town of about 10,000 people - where there is relief the death toll is not higher despite widespread destruction.
Video

Video Somali Hotel Chain Owner Strives to Make a Difference

Many in the Somali diaspora are returning home to make a new life despite the continuing risks. Since 2011 when a military campaign against Al-Shabab militants began making progress, members of the diaspora community have come back to open hospitals, schools, hotels, restaurants and other businesses. Abdulaziz Billow in Mogadishu profiles the owner of a chain of hotels and restaurants who is helping to bring change to the once-deadly Somali capital.
Video

Video Child Migrants Cross Mediterranean Alone, Face Unknown Future

Among the thousands of migrants making the deadly journey by boat to Europe, there are unaccompanied girls and boys. Some have been sent by relatives to earn money; others are orphaned or fleeing war. From a shelter for young migrants in the Sicilian town of Caltagirone, VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.

VOA Blogs