Living in Hiding From Libyan Militias

Farrah Hamary looks the picture of despair as sweat trickles down his face in Tripoli’s heat and humidity. Hamary is too afraid to give his full name or to allow his picture to be taken.

He shows IPS the scars criss-crossing his back, the cigarette burns on his arms, and the bones in his left hand which failed to heal properly when it was broken by Libyan militiamen.

Hamary, 39, is from Sudan’s war-torn and economically deprived region Kordofan. He came to Libya several years ago to eke out a living selling vegetables and fruit from his street stall in the Suq Al Ahad market in Tripoli’s Kasr Ben Gashir neighbourhood. His meagre earnings were sent back to his wife and child in Sudan.

Hamary now lives in fear. He has become victim of a militia brigade, (Katiba in Arabic), who control his local neighbourhood through fear, intimidation and extortion.

By day the Fatih Katiba, whose chief calls himself Izzedine, wear Libyan army fatigues. By night he and his group exchange military uniforms for civilian clothing, steal and demand protection money, predominantly from sub-Saharan Africans in the area.

Hamary came to the attention of the Fatih militia when a friend was involved in a car accident in July near Kasr Ben Gashir, and he went to help. Shortly afterwards Izzedine’s men arrived on the scene. They took Hamary back to their headquarters where he was beaten and tortured over two days though he had committed no crime.

“I was hung upside down and beaten on the soles of my feet. They beat me repeatedly with an iron bar on my back and arms until I was bleeding. I was also beaten with a chair and cigarette butts were extinguished on my arms. My hand was broken during the beating and it still hasn’t healed properly,” Hamary told IPS.

The Katiba confiscated Hamary’s passport, took his car and demanded he pay them 5,000 Libyan Dinars before they would return his passport. On his release Hamary reported the incident to the Sudanese embassy in Tripoli, which gave him a letter to take to the police. Sudanese embassy staff have themselves lost several cars to armed hijackings.

“The police were not interested and told me to leave. They are afraid of the militia who have

previously attacked the police station and stolen guns. There is no law and order in this country,” said Hamary.

The Sudanese migrant’s next step was to hire a lawyer, who went with him to see Izzedine and tell him what his men had done. “He just laughed and said ‘God be with you. You can leave now.’”

Issa Ibrahim from Darfur is among the lucky few to have got away. He escaped to Libya fleeing Khartoum’s Janjaweed militia, who have carried out a scorched earth policy at the behest of the Sudanese government. In Tripoli he opened a small clothing shop in the Al Rasheed neighbourhood to help support his wife and children back in Darfur.

“I’ve made friends with my Libyan neighbours and they look out for me if anybody starts to make trouble with me,” Ibrahim told IPS. “So far nobody has hurt me physically. They have only called me insulting names because I’m black. There are a lot of Libyans who look down on black Africans.

“But I have to take a lot of precautions. I don’t go out after 7pm because the streets are dangerous, especially if you are black and foreign. I also avoid certain neighbourhoods and some cities such as Misrata I would never go anywhere near.”

During the revolution former dictator Muammar Gaddafi hired African mercenaries to fight the rebels. A significant number of black Libyans, particularly those from the town of Tawergha near Misrata, sided with Gaddafi and are alleged to have committed atrocities against the civilian population of Misrata.

Libya has long attracted migrants from neighbouring countries and other parts of the world seeking economic opportunities unavailable to them in their home countries, or using it as a transit point to Europe.

Under Gaddafi, Libya, with a small population and rich oil reserves, relied heavily on hundreds of thousands of migrant labourers to prop up the economy. Many of the migrants managed to escape during the civil war, but others chose to take their chance in Libya because conditions in some of their homelands were even more dire.

“The situation in the country has not yet stabilised and there is no central power capable of governing of the whole territory,” the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) in conjunction with the NGO Migreurop reported in June after visiting a number of migrant camps in Libya.

“So armed militia groups and individuals have taken it upon themselves to decide on the treatment of migrants, outside of any legal framework. The militias control, arrest and detain migrants in improvised retention/detention camps. Invoking security concerns to justify the ‘clean-up of illegals’, they hunt migrants down, with sub-Saharan Africans as their prime targets.”

Author: Mel Frykberg

Mel Frykberg writes for Inter Press Service.