Displaced Libyans stranded in the desert

UN Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Internally Displaced Persons Cecilia Jimenes-Damar is calling on the government of Libya to protect hundreds of former residents of the town of Tawergha who are currently stranded in the desert. According to the UN, approximately 40,000 Tawarghans were forcefully evacuated in 2011 due to their perceived support for the country's former leader Moammar Qaddafi and their return has since been blocked by armed militia groups acting with the consent of the Libyan government. These militias continue to impede the Tawarghans' return despite an agreement being reached by representatives of the Tawarghans and the Misratan militia group that would have allowed individuals to begin returning home on Feb. 1.

Damary states that around 200 families are currently living in makeshift tents near Tawergha while others are living in the public halls of nearby towns. Among these individuals, two have died following strokes potentially caused by the extreme fluctuations in temperature in the desert. Damary argues that these people are being exposed to the elements without proper living conditions such as good sanitation, access to health facilities, medicine, and drinking water. Damary said:

It is critical that the Libyan Government, as well as the UN and NGOs, act to ensure that no more lives are lost as a result of this situation and that the Tawerghan people are allowed to reach their homes in safety and dignity

In a statement released earlier this month following a week-long official visit to Libya, Damary also voiced concerns regarding what awaits Tawarghans upon their return, stating:

The return of the Tawarghans to an area that experienced intense fighting furthermore exposes them to threats, including the danger of Explosive Remnants of War. Many of their homes have been damaged or destroyed, and infrastructure and livelihoods were completely disrupted, including schools, hospitals and other public buildings that were frequently used by parties to the conflict during the course of hostilities.

Damary is now asking the Libyan government to comply with her previous recommendation of developing a "comprehensive roadmap" that is in compliance with the UN Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement outlining the roles and responsibilities of governments in ensuring the safety of internally displaced person.

From Jurist, Feb. 20. Used with permission.

Note: The displaced from Tawergha have actually been attacked by militia forces at their camps in the desert. Most of them appear to be Libyan nationals of Black African ethnicity, giving a clear racial dimension to the conflict. As his army collapsed in 2011, Qaddafi brought in many Black African? mercenaries in a last-ditch bid to hold onto power. Partly as a reuslt of this, Black Africans in Libya have been subject to horridic abuses, apparently inlcluding slavery, since the fall of Qaddafi.

Photo: Mustafa Fetouri via The National, UAE