DOHA, Qatar, Monday February 28, 2011 (Correspondents* – IPS/AJ) – As nations evacuate their citizens from the violence gripping Libya, many African migrant workers are being targeted because they are suspected of being mercenaries hired by Muammar Gaddafi, the Libyan leader.
Dozens of workers from sub-Saharan Africa are feared killed, and hundreds are in hiding, as angry mobs of anti-government protesters hunt down “black African mercenaries”, according to witnesses.
About 90 Kenyans and another 64 citizens from South Sudan, Uganda, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Zambia, Rwanda, South Africa, Tanzania, Democratic Republic of Congo, Sierra Leone and Burundi landed in Nairobi on Monday, according to officials.
“We were being attacked by local people who said that we were mercenaries killing people. Let me say that they did not want to see black people,” Julius Kiluu, a 60-year-old building supervisor, told Reuters.
“Our camp was burnt down, and we were assisted by the Kenyan embassy and our company to get to the airport,” he said.
Rights organisations say that thousands of workers are stranded in camps and private homes, protected by their colleagues as their governments fail to evacuate them from the chaos.
“But why is nobody concerned about the plight of sub-Saharan African migrants in Libya? As victims of racism and ruthless exploitation, they are Libya’s most vulnerable immigrant population, and their home country governments do not give them any support,” Hein de Haas, a senior fellow with the International Migration Institute, writes in his blog.
Al Jazeera’s Nazenine Moshiri met Seidou Boubaker Jallou, a Malian citizen, who said he fled Libya after many black migrants came under attack.
“The most dangerous situation is for foreigners like us – and also us black people – because Gaddafi brought soldiers from Chad and Niger who reportedly killed Arabs,” he said.
Experts say that Gaddafi has had a long relationship with African fighters who now came to his assistance.
Hundreds of black immigrants from poor African countries, who mainly work in Libya’s oil industry as cheap labourers, have also been injured in the violence. Some were unable to seek medical treatment for fear of being killed.
Saad Jabbar, deputy director of the North Africa Centre at Cambridge University, confirms Africans have become targets.
“I tell you, these people, because of their scheme, they will be slaughtered in Libya. There is so much anger there against those mercenaries, which suddenly sprung up,” Jabbar said.
About 1.5 million Sub-Saharan African migrants work in Libya as low-paid labourers in the oil industry, construction, agriculture and service sectors.
Rights organisations say some anti-Gaddafi protesters wrongly associate African workers with state-sponsored violence.
“African immigrants are now linked to state-orchestrated violence and mass killings, and we may therefore fear the worst about the violent backlash that may follow particularly after Gaddafi is ousted,” said Haas.
Ignored by their governments, African workers are one of the most vulnerable groups in Libya right now. Analysts say unless preventative measures are taken, a massive bloodletting is feared.
“I think it is urgent to do something about it now, otherwise, a genocide against anyone who has black skin and who doesn’t speak perfect Arabic is possible,” said Jabbar. (IPS)
*Published under an agreement with Al-Jazeera.
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