Libya: Victims of racism in Tawergha need special protection

35,000 refugees want to return home

The Society for Threatened Peoples (STP) calls for special protection of the 35,000 war refugees who would like to return home to the city of Tawergha in Libya, from where they had escaped from racist attacks by militias during the civil war in August 2011. The refugees – who are of black African descent – announced to want to return to their hometown on June 25, 2013. Right after the fall of Muammar Gaddafi, the militias had generally accused the residents of Tawergha of supporting the dictator and had started hunting them down. It is unknown how many of the black Africans were killed during the expulsion – but the militias were extremely brutal. About 1,300 residents of the town were deported.

"The return of the refugees should be accompanied by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC)," said Ulrich Delius, the STP's Africa-expert, in Göttingen on Monday. "It is of particular importance that Tawergha will be under special protection during the weeks after their return." The human rights activist also demanded a clarification of the fate of those who were deported or arrested. Until today, the militias are keeping them locked up in non-official prisons: "The displaced persons must receive a fair trial or be released immediately."

In May 2013, the discovery of a mass grave in the ghost town of Tawergha had fueled a debate on the role of the town's residents in the civil war. Eleven of the victims in the mass grave – probably militiamen – had been handcuffed. Militia representatives assume that henchmen of the Gaddafi regime from Tawergha are responsible for the murders.

Libya's government fears that the return might cause a new wave of violence – not only against the murderers, but against all the inhabitants of Tawergha. In the neighboring rival city of Misrata, which had been particularly involved in fighting the Gaddafi regime, the return plans are especially unpopular.

The crimes against humanity in Tawergha are one of the darkest chapters of the war in Libya. The pogrom-like attacks against the black African Libyans had made the headlines all over the world. However, 22 months after the escape, the suffering of the victims of the racist assaults by those who won the struggle for power in Lybia is forgotten. After their escape, there were even more encroachments. Time and again, their refugee camps were attacked by militiamen. Seven refugees, including three children, had been killed when a camp in Janzur was attacked in February 2012. On May 19, 2013, when dozens of residents of Tawergha started a demonstration in the capital of Tripoli in favor of their return, unknown attackers opened fire on the protesters, injuring one person.