African immigrants flee Libya

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Bloody clashes between Libyan youths and many sub-saharan Africans in Libyan cities in September may cast a shadow on the dream of Libyan Leader, Colonel Muamar Ghaddafi to act as a catalyst for the unification of Africa.

The clashes, which are believed to have cost up to a hundred Ghanaian and Nigerian lives, were sparked off when an armed gang from West Africa, believed to be Nigerian, raped and then killed a Libyan woman. Black Africans living in Benghazi, where the incident occurred, were set up and severely beaten. The violence then spread to other Libyan towns.

Ghana's President Jerry Rawlings who has been one of Ghaddafi's staunchest friends and supports in Africa, personally lead an evacuation task force from Accra to Tripoli to repatriate the first batch of 238 Ghanaians caught up in the riots. As many as 5,000 Ghanaians had to take refuge at a camp following the riots.

Libya's oil boom has become a pull factor attracting thousands of African workers. Since the launch of the 1979 Revolution by FIt Lt Rawlings, relations between Accra and Tripoli have been cordial and Ghanaian professionals and artisans have flocked to the country.

In a gesture of goodwill towards sub-Saharan Africa, the Libyan leader recently welcomed workers to his sparsely populated country. However, the sudden influx of thousands of Nigerians, many of whom set up drugs and crime gangs, was deeply resented by the Libyans.

A large proportion of the workforce in Libya is made up of immigrants from other African states, in particular Sudan, Egypt, Senegal, Mali, Mauritania, Ghana and Nigeria.

Immigrant workers in Libya have generally been treated well but the local preference has always been for Muslims from west and north Africa. The latest batch of immigrants contained large proportions of nonMuslims who were accused of making and selling alcoholic beverages among other illegal activities.

Some of the evacuated Ghanaians admitted using sugar to distil 'akpeteshie', a strong alcoholic beverage, whilst in Libya. Prostitution, drug peddling, armed robbery and fraud were also allegedly being perpetrated by some of the immigrants.

Most immigrants however, are law abiding and have contributed to the development of Libya by providing both skilled and unskilled labour. According to reports, although the initial targets of the violence were Nigerians, distinctions were soon forgotten and all foreigners from Africa were set upon. These included some Sudanese who have lived harmoniously in the country for decades.

The Libyan leader, who is keen to be seen as a driving force in the unification of Africa, was said to be appaled by the scale of the violence, He promised a full investigation in the affair and blamed it on dissidents.

As Nigerian and Ghanaian evacuees returned home, a turnout was floated that the Libyan leader had given both governments $20m in compensation. "Where is the money?" asked several of the victims.


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