UNHCR concerned as sub-Saharan Africans targeted in Libya

News Stories, 26 August 2011

© BBC
BBC footage of a group of Africans from sub-Saharan countries being rounded up in Tripoli.

GENEVA, August 26 (UNHCR) UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres has issued a strong call for sub-Saharan Africans to be protected in Libya as reports emerge from Tripoli of people being targeted because of their colour as the city fell to rebel forces.

UNHCR spoke by phone on Friday to one scared African, Ahmed, a Somali who has been living in the Libyan capital, Tripoli, and teaching at the university there, since 2007. He has stayed on in the city since anti-government protests in the North African country turned violent in February, leading to all-out war between the Muammar Gaddafi regime and rebel forces.

Ahmed said he did not feel directly threatened. But now, as rebels take over the city, he wants to leave. Since most neighbourhoods in Tripoli fell to rebels earlier this week, sub-Saharan Africans like Ahmed are again being singled out.

"If they see you are African, that you are black, they will target you," said Ahmed, reached in his home. He said local residents, many of whom are armed, are in the streets, setting up roadblocks. "The situation is very difficult here," he told UNHCR. "You can't leave your home even for water."

As a result, he and other Somalis in the community with whom they are in contact are running out of vital supplies. One group of Somalis was attacked when they tried to leave their apartment in another part of the city, he said, leaving one man injured. "It's really very desperate."

Sub-Saharan Africans, especially those from Niger, Chad and Sudan, have been targeted by both sides after it became known that some sub-Saharan Africans had worked as mercenaries for the Gaddafi regime. Many migrants fled to neighbouring Egypt and Tunisia. But several hundred did not.

They are trapped in the capital as, once again, people with black skin are being accused of siding with the dictator. "Anyone who is black, they say they are against them," said Ahmed, who has family in the United States and a visa awaiting him in Tunis, if he can reach there safely.

The High Commissioner has urged restraint from rebel forces and Libyan civilians. "We have seen at earlier stages in this crisis that such people, Africans especially, can be particularly vulnerable to hostility or acts of vengeance," he said.

"It is crucial that humanitarian law prevails through these climactic moments and that foreigners including refugees and migrant workers are being fully and properly protected from harm," he stressed.

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