Libya: Sub-Saharan Africans in Serious Danger

This article is part of our special coverage on the uprising in Libya.

The crisis in Libya since the uprisings against Colonel Mouammar Gaddafi has not only had dramatic consequences for Libyans, but also for Sub-Saharan African citizens residing in Libya. Thousands of refugees are exposed to terrible conditions on journeys to the nearest borders, and numerous black Africans currently do not dare to leave their homes, not even to find something to eat. Why is this?

The digital portal for the civil society of Maghreb explains in an article [fr] published on March 2, 2011:

De peur d'être pris pour des mercenaires à la solde du pouvoir de Mouammar Kadhafi, les migrants subsahariens vivant en Libye se cachent depuis le début de la répression sanglante, au risque de se retrouver oubliés dans ce pays qu'ils veulent quitter.

For fear of being mistaken as mercenaries working to uphold the powerful regime of Mouammar Gaddafi, Sub-Saharan migrants living in Libya have been forced to hide  ever since the onslaught of the repression began. Yet they run the risk of finding themselves forgotten in a county they wish to leave.

Hundreds of thousands have migrated to Libya from all over the African continent, notably from the countries within close proximity, such as approximately 300,000 from Chad, 50,000 from Nigeria and 10,000 from Mauritania. In an article on Mediapart [fr] (subscription required), Carine Fouteau remarks:

Regrouped according to nationality in certain areas of the larger cities, they are calling for help but are not heard. ‘The Sub-Saharan Africans are afraid. After the information we received from the Malians, they gather together as much as possible, up to 10, 20 or 30 at a time. They cannot get out, they live underground. Anyone with black skin is in hiding because certain individuals have experienced some abuse”,  reports Alassane Dicko, one of the co-ordinators/leaders of the Malian Association of Deportation (AME), situated in Bamako.

Global Voices previously shared citizen videos related to the African mercenary question.

Al Jazeera English shares a video report on the dangers faced by black Africans in Libya.

In a report of Malian testimonies on the website, Abdou Karim Maiga recounts the experience of certain individuals [fr] who are refusing to flee.

Mamadou Diakite, who is around thirty and works as a civil servant, recounts that “since the beginning of the conflict, we have been persecuted and especially since the press began to speak of the implication that many blacks are mercenaries working closely with Gaddafi. People here say that our president supports Gaddafi and therefore we are viewed as traitors.

Another Malian, Chaka Sidibe, arrived in Libya just four months ago. He affirms that for several nights he and his friends have not slept and adds that [fr]:

We have been abandoned by our Chinese bosses who have been evacuated by their country and their villagers have asked us to leave as quickly as possible. We came together and crossed the Egyptian border by foot.

The website Relief Web reports real life stories of people who have attempted to save their own lives:

Fearing for their lives, given the targeting of Sub-Saharan Africans, and desperate to leave Libya, they had paid a human trafficker to take them to Egypt in a sealed and refrigerated truck.

The information agency of the United Nations Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs, Irin News, reports the experience of some Somalis [fr].

Their food reserves are almost totally exhausted, he explained, “The landlord did the shopping for us but we are missing a lot. We had a little bit of money when the troubles first erupted, but we are labourers and it has now been 12 days since we last worked.

Additionally, it is the women who have paid the heaviest price during this conflict, Shamso Mohammed, a Somali refugee, told IRIN in the same article:

The Somali women are particularly worried about what might happen. “I arrived here almost a year and a half ago in order to try to get myself to Europe, but so far I have not succeeded and now I find myself in the exact same situation I was trying to escape from by fleeing Somalia.”

Maryan Ali, who lives under the same roof as Shamso, has said that she fears they may come and attack them in their homes. “The residencies of several Somalians would have been, in effect, the target of attackers”, she added.

Three of her friends disappeared five days ago, she revealed. “We called them for work and they went; the last news we have of them is that they were taken by a car driven and accompanied by armoured men. We have no idea what the men have done to them and we have no one to turn to for help.”

Boukary Daou wrote in an article published on

On this Wednesday, (2nd March), there are around 134 migrants, who have trampled the soil of home. But this is just a small fraction of our compatriots living in Libya.

According to the last administrative census carried out by the vocational electorate of the civil State, (Ravec) there are more than 9000 Malians still to be accounted for.

The site Podcast Journal signaled other sources of worry for the HCR and the OIM:

Melissa Fleming, spokesperson of the HCR, made known to the HCR some concerns over the destiny of a ‘large number of refugees of Sub-Saharan African origin who are not yet authorised to enter into Tunisian territory.’ This is an issue equally signalled as a concern by the spokesperson of the International Migration Organisation (OMI), Jemini Pandya, who also works to help with the evacuation process of non-Libyan nationals.

In another article by Carine Fouteau on Mediapart (reproduced on Centrafrique Presse), Jean-Phillipe Chauzy, spokesman of International Organisation of Migration (IOM), explains:

Those who do not have any official papers are literally restricted over there. What’s more is that there are copious levels of people in this situation; from Mali, Guinea, Nigeria, Niger, Toga, Benin, Burkina Faso etc. Without a passport it is improbable that they would be authorised to leave the country. Their situation is a particularly pressing issue.

This article is part of our special coverage on the uprising in Libya.


Join the conversation

Authors, please log in »


  • All comments are reviewed by a moderator. Do not submit your comment more than once or it may be identified as spam.
  • Please treat others with respect. Comments containing hate speech, obscenity, and personal attacks will not be approved.