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's Controversial Reform Bill Giving Investors Jitters

Homeland security reform bill will give police new powers in search, seizure, detention and arrests, while restricting the rights of suspects, their attorneys More

Audio Slideshow In Kenyan Prison, Good Grades Are Path to Freedom

Some inmates who get high marks could see their sentences commuted to non-custodial status More

Ali Regained Title in Historic Fight 40 Years Ago

'The Champ' knocked Foreman out to regain crown he had lost 7 years earlier when US government accused him of draft-dodging and boxing officials revoked his license More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Victorious Secularists Face Challenge to Form Government in Tunisiai
X
Henry Ridgwell
October 30, 2014 11:39 PM
Official results from Tunisia show the Islamist Ennahda party has failed to win the second free election since the so-called "Arab Spring" uprising in 2011. Ennahda, which handed power to a government of technocrats pending the elections, lost out to the secular party Nidaa Tounes. Henry Ridgwell reports from London that the relatively peaceful poll offers some hope in a volatile region.
Video

Video Victorious Secularists Face Challenge to Form Government in Tunisia

Official results from Tunisia show the Islamist Ennahda party has failed to win the second free election since the so-called "Arab Spring" uprising in 2011. Ennahda, which handed power to a government of technocrats pending the elections, lost out to the secular party Nidaa Tounes. Henry Ridgwell reports from London that the relatively peaceful poll offers some hope in a volatile region.
Video

Video Africa Tells its Story Through Fashion

In Africa, Fashion Week is a riot of colors, shapes, patterns and fabrics - against the backdrop of its ongoing struggle between nature and its fast-growing urban edge. How do these ideas translate into needle and thread? VOA’s Anita Powell visited this year’s Mercedes Benz Fashion Week Africa in Johannesburg to find out.
Video

Video Smugglers Offer Cheap Passage From Turkey to Syria

Smugglers in Turkey offer a relatively cheap passage across the border into Syria. Ankara has stepped up efforts to stem the flow of foreign fighters who want to join Islamic State militants fighting for control of the Syrian border city of Kobani. But porous borders and border guards who can be bribed make illegal border crossings quite easy. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video China Political Meeting Seeks to Improve Rule of Law

China’s communist leaders will host a top level political meeting this week, called the Fourth Plenum, and for the first time in the party’s history, rule of law will be a key item on the agenda. Analysts and Chinese media reports say the meetings could see the approval of long-awaited measures aimed at giving courts more independence and include steps to enhance an already aggressive and high-reaching anti-corruption drive. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rules

European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video Kobani Refugees Welcome, Turkey Criticizes, US Airdrop

Residents of Kobani in northern Syria have welcomed the airdrop of weapons, ammunition and medicine to Kurdish militia who are resisting the seizure of their city by Islamic State militants. The Turkish government, however, has criticized the operation. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from southeastern Turkey, across the border from Kobani.

All About America

AppleAndroid