Thousands Still Afraid to Return Home to #Libya

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Photo: Zahra Moloo/IRIN
A group of women from Tawergha. Some claim their family members were taken by militias to detention centres in Misrata.

Six months after an uprising brought down Muammar Gaddafi’s government, thousands of displaced Libyans are still living in abandoned construction sites, empty student dormitories or with host families, too afraid to return to their homes.

“We want to go back but cannot,” said Abdul Aziz al-Irwi, who lives in Sidi Slim camp in the capital, Tripoli. “Some people from another camp tried to return about two months ago, but about seven of them were captured by forces from Zintan and imprisoned.”

Al-Irwi is from the Mshashiya community, an ethnic group from the Nefusa Mountains in Western Libya who were targeted during the uprising by opposition fighters from Zintan, allegedly for being allied with pro-Gaddafi forces. Zintan is a small city also located in the Nefusa Mountains area.

“I am here because Gaddafi’s forces came to the town of Mshashya, so we had to leave,” he told IRIN. “They used our town to bomb other areas. We went to Gharyan, and then came to Tripoli.”

Records from the UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR, show that an estimated 14,500 internally displaced persons (IDPs) were living in Tripoli as of March. Across Libya, the total number of those still displaced is estimated at 70,000.

Apart from the Mshashiya, others included the Qawalish, also from the Nefusa Mountains, the Tawergha, a group of Touareg families from the west, and those perceived as being loyal to the previous regime from al-Zawiya, Bani Walid and Sirte.

A sizeable group of the displaced living in Tripoli and Benghazi cities were Tawergha. They were accused of participating in Gaddafi’s assault on Misrata, murdering and raping thousands of people. Reprisal attacks ensued, forcing their entire town of more than 30,000 to flee their homes. Today, the Tawergha-Misrata case remains a particularly sensitive one in post-Gaddafi Libya.

Until recently, the dark-skinned Tawergha minority – former slaves brought to Libya in the 18th and 19th centuries – lived in a coastal town of the same name 250km east of Tripoli. With the rise to power of the rebels, the Tawergha are now on the defensive. The sign leading to their city has been changed to New Misrata and its population told not to return.

Source: IRIN news service

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