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 "Misrata," in Arabic, as part of score-settling following Libya's eight-month civil war.
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

Turkey: No Ransom Paid for Release of Hostages Held by IS Militants

President Erdogan hails release of hostages as diplomatic success but declines to be drawn on whether their release freed Ankara's hand to take more active stance against insurgents More

Audio Sierra Leone Ends Ebola Lockdown

Health ministry says it has reached 75 percent of its target of visiting 1.5 million homes to locate infected, educate population about virus More

US Pivot to Asia Demands Delicate Balancing Act

As tumult in Middle East distracts Obama administration, efforts to shift American focus eastward appear threatened More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Natural Gas Export Plan Divides Maryland Towni
X
Deborah Block
September 21, 2014 2:12 PM
A U.S. power company that has been importing natural gas now wants to export it. If approved, its plant in Lusby, Maryland, would likely be the first terminal on the United States East Coast to export liquefied natural gas from American pipelines. While some residents welcome the move because it will create jobs, others oppose it, saying the expansion could be a safety and environmental hazard. VOA’s Deborah Block examines the controversy.
Video

Video Natural Gas Export Plan Divides Maryland Town

A U.S. power company that has been importing natural gas now wants to export it. If approved, its plant in Lusby, Maryland, would likely be the first terminal on the United States East Coast to export liquefied natural gas from American pipelines. While some residents welcome the move because it will create jobs, others oppose it, saying the expansion could be a safety and environmental hazard. VOA’s Deborah Block examines the controversy.
Video

Video Difficult Tactical Battle Ahead Against IS Militants in Syria

The U.S. president has ordered the military to intensify its fight against the Islamic State, including in Syria. But how does the military conduct air strikes in a country that is not a U.S. ally? VOA correspondent Carla Babb reports from the Pentagon.
Video

Video Iran, World Powers Seek Progress in Nuclear Talks

Iran and the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany, known as the P5 + 1, have started a new round of talks on Iran's nuclear program. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports that as the negotiations take place in New York, a U.S. envoy is questioning Iran's commitment to peaceful nuclear activity.
Video

Video Alibaba Shares Soar in First Day of Trading

China's biggest online retailer hit the market Friday -- with its share price soaring on the New York Stock Exchange. The shares were priced at $68, but trading stalled at the opening, as sellers held onto their shares, waiting for buyers to bid up the price. More on the world's biggest initial public offering from VOA’s Bernard Shusman in New York.
Video

Video Obama Goes to UN With Islamic State, Ebola on Agenda

President Obama goes to the United Nations General Assembly to rally nations to support a coalition against Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria. He also will look for nations to back his plan to fight the Ebola virus in West Africa. As VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports, Obama’s efforts reflect new moves by the U.S. administration to take a leading role in addressing world crises.
Video

Video Migrants Caught in No-Man's Land Called Calais

The deaths of hundreds of migrants in the Mediterranean this week has only recast the spotlight on the perils of reaching Europe. And for those forunate enough to reach a place like Calais, France, only find that their problems aren't over. Lisa Bryant has the story.
Video

Video Westgate Siege Anniversary Brings Back Painful Memories

One year after it happened, the survivors of the terror attack on Nairobi's Westgate Shopping Mall still cannot shake the images of that tragic incident. For VOA, Mohammed Yusuf tells the story of victims still waiting for the answer to the question 'how could this happen?'
Video

Video Militant Assault in Syria Displaces Thousands of Kurds

A major assault by Islamic State militants on Kurds in Syria has sent a wave of new refugees to the Turkish border, where they were stopped by Turkish border security. Turkey is already hosting about 700,000 Syrian refugees who fled the civil war between the government and the opposition. But the government in Ankara has a history of strained relations with Turkey's Kurdish minority. Zlatica Hoke reports Turkey is asking for international help.
Video

Video Whaling Summit Votes to Uphold Ban on Japan Whale Hunt

The International Whaling Commission, meeting in Slovenia, has voted to uphold a court ruling banning Japan from hunting whales in the Antarctic Ocean. Conservationists hailed the ruling as a victory, but Tokyo says it will submit revised plans for a whale hunt in 2015. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video A Dinosaur Fit for Land and Water

Residents and tourists in Washington D.C. can now examine a life-size replica of an unusual dinosaur that lived almost a hundred million years ago in northern Africa. Scientists say studying the behemoth named Spinosaurus helps them better understand how some prehistoric animals adapted to life on land and in water. The Spinosaurus replica is on display at the National Geographic museum. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Iraqi Kurdistan Church Helps Christian Children Cope find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil

In the past six weeks, tens of thousands of Iraqi Christians have been forced to flee their homes by Islamic State militants and find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil. Despite U.S. airstrikes in the region, the prospect of people returning home is still very low and concerns are starting to grow over the impact this is having on the displaced youth. Sebastian Meyer reports from Irbil on how one church is coping.


Carnage and mayhem are part of daily life in northern Nigeria, the result of a terror campaign by the Islamist group Boko Haram. Fears are growing that Nigeria’s government may not know how to counter it, and may be making things worse. More

AppleAndroid