Trapped in Tripoli, Libya’s Tawargans Fume Over Ill-Treatment

'This Is Abu Ghraib, Not Libya!'

The town is gone, virtually burned to the ground and with signs declaring New Misrata all over the place, and a large portion of the adult male population is gone with it, either dead or being held indefinitely in torture centers by Misrata militia forces. The people of Tawarga, however, haven’t entirely disappeared.

And their continued existence remains a major headache for the new Libyan regime, with some 1,500 civilians herded into an abandoned business complex near Tripoli airport and others scattered across the nation, still seething over their town’s destruction.

The Tawargans were descendants of slaves from further south in Africa, brought into Libya in the 18th and 19th century, and they settled in the farming town of Tawarga, just south of Misrata, for generations.

But when the Gadhafi regime fell, black people became persona non grata across Libya, amid claims that the dictator imported a number of African mercenaries to fight for him near the end. The Tawargans were not imported mercenaries, however, but were born in Libya. This made little difference and in the crushing of Gadhafi’s forces, the overwhelmingly black town was sacked and burned. The Tawargans were initially herded into a refugee camp in Tripoli, but then Misrata forces attacked that camp and forced them into a worse camp, which later closed.

For those still alive, the stories are all the same. Everyone has family members killed by the militias, and most still have relatives held in custody in Misrata, where international officials warn torture is rampant.

“This is Abu Ghraib, not Libya!” one Tawargan complained, while others warned that they would fight back if the situation continues. Misrata militia leaders continue to insist that the Tawargans got what they had coming to them, and one Misrata fighter insisted “it’s easier and better that they just go away.” With no place to go that doesn’t seem likely, but as crackdowns against them and other “suspiciously dark-skinned” Libyans continue, a backlash seems inevitable.

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Author: Jason Ditz

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