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Stranded Somali migrants unsure where to turn

Humanitarian presence in Libya as well as numbers of people crossing into neighbouring countries

Some 2,500 Somali migrants in the Libyan capital Tripoli, under the control of Libyan leader Col Muammar Gaddafi, are holed up in the violence-affected city and unsure what to do, say Somali migrants there.

“We have not left our house in the last 12 days. If we go out we are liable to be attacked," one of the Somalis, Mohamed Aweys, told IRIN by phone from Tripoli. "A friend who went out on 1 March to get some supplies has not returned. We have not seen or heard of him since; his mobile is switched off."

There were 30 Somalis in his house - all seeking refuge and unable to go out to buy basic necessities. "So far, the report we have is that five Somalis have been killed in Tripoli," he added. These claims could not be independently confirmed.

Another 500 in the rebel-held city of Benghazi, Aweys said, had been targeted as suspected pro-Gaddafi mercenaries. "We spoke to some of them on the phone in Benghazi and they are hiding in their homes."

Another Somali in Tripoli, Mahamud Ahmed, said: "We have nothing to do with their [Libyans'] problems. Most of us came here to escape our own problems and look for a better life and now we are caught up in a life-and-death situation."

He said food stocks were running low. "The landlord has been buying things for us, but we are running out of everything. We had some money when the unrest started but we are day labourers and have not worked for 12 days."

Asked if they would try and reach the Egyptian or Tunisian border, like other foreign nationals, Ahmed said: "We are afraid we will get killed before we reach any border."

While governments around the world were evacuating their citizens from Libya, "Somalis have no effective government that can come to our rescue," Ahmed said. "No one is speaking for us." 

Somali women are most fearful of what could happen. "I came here about a year and half ago to go to Europe but I have not succeeded so far; now I am caught up in the same thing that I fled in Somalia," Shamso Mohammed told IRIN.

Shamso, like most of her compatriots, left Somalia for Sudan, then crossed the desert into Libya. "We almost died in the desert, but thank God we made it into Libya."

She said three of her friends [women] had disappeared five days earlier. "They were called to work and they went; the last report we have is they were taken in a car by armed men. We don’t know what they did to them and there is no one to complain to."

Maryan Ali, who is staying in the same house as Shamso, said she was afraid someone would come to their house and attack them. Some houses where Somalis were staying, she added, had been reportedly attacked.

"We need someone to help get us out of here," Maryan. "The longer this continues the worse our situation gets. If we are not killed, we may die of hunger."

Homeless, penniless

According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), the recent unrest has left thousands of foreign workers from Asia, Africa, the Middle East and Europe, homeless and penniless.

''Sub-Saharan African workers are in dire need of evacuation because of the threats they face. The people most in need are mainly from poorer countries in Asia and Africa... whose governments have apparently been unable or unwilling to rescue them''

"Thousands upon thousands of foreign workers remain stuck in Benghazi, after being forced from their factories and losing their possessions in last week's tumultuous events," HRW's emergencies director Peter Bouckaert said.

"Sub-Saharan African workers are in dire need of evacuation because of the threats they face. The people most in need are mainly from poorer countries in Asia and Africa... whose governments have apparently been unable or unwilling to rescue them."

According to HRW, international law does not require third countries to evacuate or repatriate migrants during emergencies of the kind currently in Libya, but in circumstances where particular nationality groups are targeted for persecution there is an obligation not to expose them to the risk of such persecution.

“Crisis point”

Meanwhile, the situation on the Libya-Tunisia border, where thousands of foreigners are trying to leave Libya, is “reaching crisis point”, the UN Refugee Agency said. Since 14 February, at least 140,000 have crossed into Egypt or Tunisia.

"Fourteen thousand people crossed yesterday [1 March], the highest number to date, with tens of thousands of people now in urgent need of onward transportation to their home countries," a UNHCR spokesman told reporters in Geneva. "With 10,000-15,000 people expected to arrive [at the Tunisia-Libya border] today it is becoming critically important that onward transport becomes quickly available to avoid a humanitarian crisis."

Benghazi was facing shortages of medicines and medical equipment, according to the NGO International Medical Corps. "Urgently needed supplies include: items and drugs for surgeries, acute illnesses and lab testing; as well as antibiotics and anaesthetics," it said, adding that there was also a need for orthopaedic and reconstructive surgeons.


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

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