In the violence immediately before and after Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi was toppled in October 2011, thousands of sub-Saharan migrants were forced to flee. Since then, however, the authorities have detained in harsh conditions, and subsequently deported, hundreds more, according to former Chadian migrant workers.
More than 2,000 Chadians and other sub-Saharan African nationals have been returned since 2012, according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM). Many of the deportees had been detained for several months or years, and were taken back to Chad in open trucks, said returned migrants, recounting that they had been arrested for lack of valid papers or on suspicion of being mercenaries who supported the Gaddafi’s regime.
“Irregular repatriation has lately become more intense. Since last year, Chadian authorities have observed an influx into the north of Chad of migrants previously detained in Libya. This is causing a serious humanitarian challenge,” said Qasim Sufi, IOM’s chief of mission in Chad.
Sufi told IRIN: “Returnees are faced with a multitude of challenges ranging from dealing with the trauma of having been detained for long periods (some up to 27 months), to having experienced or witnessed violence.”
“As per the returned migrants, Libyan authorities organize trucks that depart from Libya into Chad where they deposit the returnees. It seems that trucks are often ill-equipped for transporting people and are not provided with food, water or first aid kits for the often 10-day or longer journey.”
Some 300,000 Chadians lived and worked in Libya before the February 2011 revolt, according to the Chadian government. They mostly provided low-skilled labour in Tripoli, Benghazi or Sabha where most had lived for 1-5 years.
Since January 2012 alone, Libya has deported 566 Chadians (freed from detention centres). “The returnees arrive in deplorable condition; many are severely dehydrated, suffer from infections and wounds as well as stomach problems,” said Sufi.
Upon deportation recently, 26-year-old Mahamat Zene Issa, who had lived in Libya for five years, recounted mistreatment in the detention centre where he and other migrant workers had been held for long periods without a formal charge.
“One day I was on my way to visit my cousin just 5km from my apartment. Then an army vehicle picked me up and [the soldiers] beat me so badly until I lost consciousness,” Issa, who is from Chad’s Lake Region, told IOM.
“When I woke up I found myself in a detention centre and I didn’t know why and there was no one to ask why I was there. I stayed in the detention centre for 27 months under harsh conditions, but thanks to Allah I am still alive because many others did not make it. I saw others get killed or they died of illness… They treated us like dogs.”
Racism against blacks has a long history in Libya, but has been a particular problem for sub-Saharan migrants - nationals from countries like Chad, Niger, Sudan, Senegal, Mali and Nigeria - since the Libyan uprising. Rebels who fought for Gaddafi’s ouster accused him of using black African mercenaries to help quell the revolt.
Long before his fall, Gaddafi had been accused of using Chadian soldiers, Tuareg warriors from northwest Africa, and other non-Libyan combatants, in the Libyan military, notably the Khamis Brigade, led by one of his sons.
The migrants deported from Libya to Chad by road often come to Faya, the largest city in northern Chad, where they are received at a transit centre by IOM, the Chadian Red Cross and local authorities.
Since July 2012, three waves of Chadian migrants have been deported from Libya, according to the IOM. Earlier, bloody revolution clashes had seen more than 150,000 migrant workers flee the country.
“Beaten every day and night like animals”
Twenty-five year-old Moussa Adam Béchir said he was arrested and beaten in detention where he was held for 14 months before being released suddenly without any explanation.
“We were all tortured in the detention centre. We weren’t treated like humans, but beaten every day and night like animals for no reason other than that we are Chadians and were accused of being mercenaries,” Béchir said in an interview with IOM.
“One day we were taken to a hospital where nurses drew our blood. We didn’t know why they did this,” he added, explaining that more than 2,000 people, including Malians and Nigeriens were held in the same detention centre he was in.
“I don’t know why we were freed. One night we were told that the following day we were going to return home. That day they put us in trucks to ferry us back home.”
Returned migrants have difficulty resettling, as many are without ID papers, money or even clothes, and have to turn to their families that they had previously been assisting through remittances for support, Sufi explained. Some families back home had not heard from their kin for long periods and presumed they had died.
“Although I really don’t know what will happen to me now, I’m happy to be back home as no one will ask me for documents or beat me and jail me for nothing,” Issa said.
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions
Right now, we’re working with contributors on the ground in Ukraine and in neighbouring countries to tell the stories of people enduring and responding to a rapidly evolving humanitarian crisis.
We’re documenting the threats to humanitarian response in the country and providing a platform for those bearing the brunt of the invasion. Our goal is to bring you the truth at a time when disinformation is rampant.
But while much of the world’s focus may be on Ukraine, we are continuing our reporting on myriad other humanitarian disasters – from Haiti to the Sahel to Afghanistan to Myanmar. We’ve been covering humanitarian crises for more than 25 years, and our journalism has always been free, accessible for all, and – most importantly – balanced.
You can support our journalism from just $5 a month, and every contribution will go towards our mission.