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.
TEXT SIZE - +
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

Photogallery Pope's Easter Prayer: Peace in Ukraine, Syria

Pontiff also calls for end to terrorist acts in Nigeria, violence in Iraq, and success in peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians More

Abdullah Holds Lead in Afghan Presidential Election

Country's Election Commission says that with half of the ballots counted, former FM remains in the lead with 44 percent of the vote More

Russia-Ukraine Crisis Could Trigger Cyber War

As tensions between Kyiv and Moscow escalate, so too has frequency of online attacks targeting government, news and financial sites More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Ukraine, Russia, United in Faith, Divided in Politicsi
X
Michael Eckels
April 19, 2014
There is a strong historical religious connection between Russia and Ukraine. But what role is religion playing in the current conflict? In the run-up to Easter, Michael Eckels in Moscow reports for VOA.
Video

Video Ukraine, Russia, United in Faith, Divided in Politics

There is a strong historical religious connection between Russia and Ukraine. But what role is religion playing in the current conflict? In the run-up to Easter, Michael Eckels in Moscow reports for VOA.
Video

Video Face of American Farmer is Changing

The average American farmer is now 58 years old, and farmers 65 and older are the fastest growing segment of the population. It’s a troubling trend signaling big changes ahead for American agriculture as aging farmers retire. Reporter Mike Osborne says a new report from the U.S. Census Bureau is suggesting what some of those changes might look like... and why they might not be so troubling.
Video

Video Donetsk Governor: Ukraine Military Assault 'Delicate But Necessary'

Around a dozen state buildings in eastern Ukraine remain in the hands of pro-Russian protesters who are demanding a referendum on self-rule. The governor of the whole Donetsk region is among those forced out by the protesters. He spoke to VOA's Henry Ridgwell from his temporary new office in Donetsk city.
Video

Video Drones May Soon Send Data From High Seas

Drones are usually associated with unmanned flying vehicles, but autonomous watercraft are also becoming useful tools for jobs ranging from scientific exploration to law enforcement to searching for a missing airliner in the Indian Ocean. VOA’s George Putic reports on sea-faring drones.
Video

Video New Earth-Size Planet Found

Not too big, not too small. Not too hot, not too cold. A newly discovered planet looks just right for life as we know it, according to an international group of astronomers. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Copts in Diaspora Worry About Future in Egypt

Around 10 percent of Egypt’s population belong to the Coptic faith, making them the largest Christian minority in the Middle East. But they have become targets of violence since the revolution three years ago. With elections scheduled for May and the struggle between the Egyptian military and Islamists continuing, many Copts abroad are deeply worried about the future of their ancient church. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky visited a Coptic church outside Washington DC.
Video

Video Critics Say Venezuelan Protests Test Limits of Military's Support

During the two months of deadly anti-government protests that have rocked the oil-rich nation of Venezuela, President Nicolas Maduro has accused the opposition of trying to initiate a coup. Though a small number of military officers have been arrested for allegedly plotting against the government, VOA’s Brian Padden reports the leadership of the armed forces continues to support the president, at least for now.
Video

Video More Millenials Unplug to Embrace Board Games

A big new trend in the U.S. toy industry has more consumers switching off their high-tech gadgets to play with classic toys, like board games. This is especially true among the so-called millenial generation - those born in the 1980's and 90's. Elizabeth Lee has more from an unusual café in Los Angeles, where the new trend is popular and business is booming.
Video

Video Google Buys Drone Company

In its latest purchase of high-tech companies, Google has acquired a manufacturer of solar-powered drones that can stay in the air almost indefinitely, relaying broadband Internet connection to remote areas. It is seen as yet another step in the U.S. based Web giant’s bid to bring Internet to the whole world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
AppleAndroid