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African migrants fearing reprisal attacks in Libya receive medical supplies

posted 31 Aug 2011, 08:59 by Sam Mbale   [ updated 31 Aug 2011, 09:03 ]
Medical supplies are delivered to Libya's African migrants, many of whom have fled to makeshift camps fearing reprisal attacks as they are suspected of being mercenaries.

TRIPOLI, LIBYA (AUGUST 31, 2011) REUTERS - Around 1,000 migrant workers from African countries were camping in a small port west of Tripoli on Wednesday (August 31), fearing reprisal attacks by Libyan rebels.

Mostly men in their late 20s, the workers from Nigeria, Ghana and Senegal started arriving three months ago.

One travelled 50 kilometres (30 miles) by foot across the desert in April from Misrata before finding a car to bring him to Tripoli.

Some came recently when fighting started in the capital city between pro and anti-Gaddafi forces. Many have been attacked by rebels who suspect them of being mercenaries.

Sheltered under small boats, they have very little food or water. Many go begging to get something from nearby stores. Many say they have been attacked when they went out, while some never came back.

"Everyone here they didn't like black," said Kinsley, a bricklayer from Nigeria.

"When the fighting was taking place, they used to look for anywhere black it is. They will bust the door, beat them, collect their things, throw it everywhere and you would be running for your dear life. Me, personally, I am here. I am coverless. In short, I am confused, I don't know where to start from," he added.

Former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi employed a number of mercenaries as part of a special protection unit. During the fighting for Tripoli, mercenaries were caught firing at rebels from sniper positions in residential buildings.

But these men say they are not fighters.

"For me I am a Nigerian. If I want to be a soldier man, I will go to my country and join soldier. I cannot fight for neighbouring country in my life. I trust my people. They no fighting, we are not here to fight. We came here to work. Because there is no sufficient work in Nigeria for us to work," Kindsley said.

MSF workers found this camp three days ago. They have since discovered migrant workers hiding in other smaller encampments scattered around in fields and farmland.

The NGO says they need protection above all else, as well as decent health care.

"The main problem we are facing here is that these people, they lack security, they lack access to medical care, they are living in inhuman conditions basically. It's not fit for human habitation, they don't have drinking water, they don't have access to food, they haven't access to communicate with their families who may be elsewhere," said MSF emergency co-ordinator Simon Burroughs.

The migrants suffer from stress symptoms due to the trauma of the fighting, dehydration and hunger. Some have war wounds to tend to.

One man says he was stabbed in the stomach three days ago on his way out of the camp. Another showed his leg where he received a knife wound by a Libyan who suspected him of supporting Gaddafi.

There were several accounts of attacks inside the camp as well.

One man, who was too scared to face the camera, said he fled his home in Shara after rebels stormed into his house and demanded he and his brother give them all their money.

His brother refused and was shot down, he says.

"They fire on us, they collected the money they asked me to move out. Before I come by they just shoot, shoot my brother. Then they collected the money they ask me I should run, I should not look back. Me and my wife and my own kid. And we run away.That is why I left the house," said Festus from Nigeria.

One woman, also from Nigeria, Success, said she lost her husband during the fighting. Her home was shelled while she was in the store. When she came back everyone was dead.

She was very ill and her eyes looked yellow. She was taking medicine given by MSF.

Other women who did not want to speak on camera said they had been raped inside the camp by Libyans breaking in.

Festus said he felt betrayed and never wanted to see Libya again.

Many chose the port to set up camp in the hope they could sail off to Europe.

Several have already left.