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African migrants without hope in Libya

HERB BOYD Special to the AmNews | 12/14/2011, 5:32 p.m.

In the aftermath of the revolution in Libya, as many predicted, the problems there have been far from solved. If there's any concern at all about Libya nowadays, it's mainly to do with what countries have the upper hand in the rush for its vast oil resources.

The current conditions in Libya certainly weren't on President Barack Obama's mind at Fort Bragg Wednesday afternoon as he announced the drawdown of troops in Iraq.

And except for a few human rights organizations and relief agencies, nor is the rest of the world seemingly interested in Libya after the insurgents who, with NATO assistance, overturned Col. Muammar al-Gaddafi and his administration.

Currently, the conflict in this war-torn North African country is without end, mainly now a matter of when the insurgents will put down their weapons and whether the so-called military force will allow the emergence of a democratically elected government.

Meanwhile, of perhaps even lesser concern for Libya and its citizens is the fate of thousands of African migrants in the country, many of whom were caught between the contending forces and were unable to travel back to their home countries.

According to a recent NPR report, there are countless sub-Saharan Africans in Libya whose status remain unsettled amid the ongoing turbulence.

They are the forgotten victims; some of them homeless and stranded, others in worse circumstances, imprisoned, abused daily and accused of being Gaddafi's mercenaries.

Detained in makeshift camps, the migrants-particularly the women and children-are at the mercy of guards who have little regard for their humanity; children are neglected and underfed, women are often raped.

"Without question, there is a perception that sub-Saharan Africans are in some way or form associated with the previous regime and, indeed, potentially they could be mercenaries," said Jeremy Haslam, mission chief for the International Organization of Migrations (IOM), during an NPR interview. "And unfortunately, all sub-Saharans are branded with that same stigma. So that's one of the root causes of their persecution."

Despite the dedicated commitment of the IOM in evacuating many out of harm's way and back to their homes, there remain thousands desperately in need of food, water and medical attention.

"The problem now, as things tail off in what is perceived to be the end of the humanitarian crisis, is that some of these needs are being neglected," Haslam added.

Further plaguing their attempts to rescue the migrants is a lack of cooperation from those in charge and the inability of the IOM to process the migrants because of their very difficult situations.

One case mentioned in the NPR report was particularly striking. "Salah Abu Bakr has a master's degree in accountancy from his native Somalia. But because of the civil war there and a lack of opportunities, he came to Libya, hoping to catch a boat to Europe. He showed visitors around the makeshift camp in Tripoli where he and other Africans have been living." He said his fellow migrants are without beds and there are not enough mattresses available for everyone.

While the work of Doctors Without Borders has been, as customary, unstinting, there are reports that they won't be there for the migrants much longer. Rumors have it that the camps they operate will soon be closed.

That would only compound an increasingly dire situation for the African migrants. To say they have experienced their share of misery and displacement is an understatement of immense proportions.