An international aid agency has said on Wednesday that more than 1,700 sub-Saharan African migrants, including women and children, have taken refuge at a southern Libyan desert town and held by Gaddafi loyalists who are in the town.
The migrants are mainly from Nigeria, Somalia, Chad, Niger, and Eritrea. They are stranded in Sabha and afraid of being killed when forces from Libya’s new transitional authority storm the town.
The International Organization for Migration (IOM) transit center, where they have gathered in overcrowded condition, is intended for 500 to 600 people.
Jean-Philippe Chauzy, spokesman of the IOM said, “We are working on the possibility of evacuating them either by air or road, possibly to the Chad border. We would need escort security.”
He added that the IOM is trying to coordinate their evacuation with the National Transitional Council, NTC, and local authorities in Sabha.
“Sabha is a logical stepping stone on the route to Chad and Niger. These were probably migrants trying to reach Chad or Niger and ended up in Sabha with no possibility of heading south especially as the town is now surrounded,” Chauzy said.
African migrants have suffered increasing abuse and violence during the conflict, sometimes accused of being mercenaries fighting alongside pro-Gaddafi forces against rebels who toppled him, aid agencies say.
In the meantime, a convoy with food, water and medical supplies was being organized for Sabha, from Tripoli by road.
According to Voice of America, the Nigerian ambassador paid a visit to the camp on Saturday and offered to return his citizens to Nigeria. He was greeted with open hostility by his countrymen. His guards fired into the ground as the crowd shouted him out of the camp.
Nigerian truck driver Fred Binosa said this is because going home is not an option. He said many workers borrowed money to travel here and if they returned home empty-handed they would be at risk. He said the lack of job opportunities in Nigeria is a major factor.