Racism is nothing new in Qaddafi's Libya

Libya: Sub-Saharan Africans fear for their lives

Libyan's dark-skinned residents from African countries south of the Sahara are already the losers in the Libyan revolution. "Ever since the rumors arose that African mercenaries were working for Qaddafi, African immigrants in Libya are even more in fear for their lives," reported the head of the Africa section at the Society for Threatened Peoples (STP), Ulrich Delius, on Tuesday in Göttingen. Attacks on Africans have been reported in recent days in many regions of the country. "Massive racism is not new in Libya. Qaddafi publicly claims to support African unity, but in fact he has long adhered to a policy of Arabian nationalism that sees sub-Saharan Africans as second-class citizens."

In 2000, at least 135 African workers who had lived many years in Libya were killed in pogroms. "They have basically been hunting us Africans down," reported Gambian Kemo Jetta at the time. "Bands of thugs roamed the streets and attacked anyone who's skin was dark." Africans were particularly embittered over the fact that the omnipresent police took no action against the thugs. Tens of thousands of Africans fled for their lives back to their homelands south of the Sahara. The International Confederation of Free Trade Unions called for condemnation of the "racist attacks on guest workers." The UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination also repeatedly expressed their concern.

The subsequent years saw repeated random arrests and mass deportations of African migrant workers. In the spring of 2010 the STP protested with petitions to the United Nations against the escalating racism of the Qaddafi regime, after more than 500 workers from Mali and Niger were deported.

"In the discussion of Libya's role as a transit land for African refugees, it is often forgotten that the majority of the 2.5 million foreign workers in this north African nation are dark-skinned Africans," said Delius. "Most of them arrived in the country decades ago and many are legal residents with work permits. In spite of their enormous importance to the Libyan economy, they have always been subjected to discrimination. Just depending on Qaddafi's mood and his financial situation at any given time, they may overnight find themselves the targets of arrest, looting, torture, inhumane treatment and humiliating deportation to their home countries."

Qaddafi's policy vis-à-vis the dark-skinned Toubou living in the southern part of the country is also racist. In December 2007 he revoked their civil rights and had them systematically forced out of the country.