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

US Border Patrol Union Accused of Taking Sides on Immigration

Report alleges agents leaking info to immigration opponents, appearing at their private events; Center for Immigration Studies director defends agents' actions More

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Reporting from Somali capital for past decade, Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal has been working at one of Mogadishu's leading radio stations covering parliament More

Video Rights Monitor: Hate Groups' Use of Internet to Inflame, Recruit Growing

Wiesenthal Center's Abraham Cooper says extremists have become skilled at celebrating violence, ideology on Web More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Interneti
X
Mike O'Sullivan
June 30, 2015 8:20 PM
Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video US Silica Sand Mining Surge Worries Illinois Residents, Businesses

Increased domestic U.S. oil and gas production, thanks to advances known as “fracking,” has created a boom for other industries supporting that extraction. Demand for silica sand, used in fracking, could triple over the next five years. In the Midwest state of Illinois, people living near the mines are worried about how increased silica sand mining will affect their businesses and their health. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh has more in this first of a series of reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Texas Defies Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

Texas state officials have criticized the US Supreme Court decision giving same-sex couples the right to marry nationwide. The attorney general of Texas says last week's decision did not overrule constitutional "rights of religious liberty," and therefore officials performing wedding services can refuse to perform them for same-sex couples if it is against their religious beliefs. Zlatica Hoke reports on the controversy.
Video

Video Syrians Flee IS Advance in Hasaka

The Syrian government said Monday it has taken back one of several districts in Hasaka overrun by Islamic State militants. But continued fighting elsewhere in the northern city has forced thousands of civilians from their homes. In this report narrated by Bill Rodgers, VOA Kurdish Service reporter Zana Omer describes the scene in Amouda, where some of the displaced are taking refuge.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.
Video

Video S. Korea Christians Protest Gay Rights Festival

The U.S. Supreme Court decision mandating marriage equality nationwide has energized gay rights supporters around the world. Gay rights remain a highly contentious issue in a key U.S. ally, South Korea, where police did a deft job Sunday of preventing potential clashes between Christian protesters and gay activists. Kurt Achin reports from Seoul.
Video

Video Saudi Leaks Expose ‘Checkbook Diplomacy’ In Battle With Iran

Saudi Arabia’s willingness to wield its oil money on the global diplomatic stage appears to have been laid bare, after the website WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of leaked cables from Riyadh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Nubians in Kenya Face Land Challenges

East Africa's ethnic Nubians have a rich cultural history that dates back thousands of years, but in Kenya they are facing hardships, including the loss of lands they have lived on for generations. They say the government has reneged on its pledge to award them title deeds for the plots. VOA's Lenny Ruvaga reports.
Video

Video Military Experts Question New Russian Tank Capabilities

Russia has been showing off its new tank design – the Armata T-14. Designers claim it is 20 years ahead of current Western designs - and driving it feels like playing a computer game. But military analysts question those assertions, and warn the cost could be too heavy a burden for Russia’s struggling economy. Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video In Kenya, Police Said to Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

An organization that documents torture and extrajudicial killings says Kenyan police were responsible for 1,252 shooting deaths in five cities, including Nairobi, between 2009 and 2014, representing 67 percent of all gun deaths in the areas reviewed. Gabe Joselow has more from Nairobi.
Video

Video In Syrian Crisis, Social Media Offer Small Comforts

Za’atari, a makeshift city in Jordan, may be the only Syrian refugee camp to tweet its activities, in an effort to keep donors motivated as the war in Syria intensifies and the humanitarian crisis deepens. Inside the camp, families say mobile phone applications help hold together families that are physically torn apart. VOA’s Heather Murdock reports.

VOA Blogs