Libya’s displaced Tawergha threaten unilateral return
TRIPOLI - Two years on from the start of the Libyan revolution, one major humanitarian issue awaits resolution: the internal displacement of around 60,000 Libyans accused of close ties to the Gaddafi regime and committing abuses during the nine-month conflict.
Around half of the internally displaced persons (IDPs) are ethnic Tawergha, according to the Libyan Humanitarian Relief Agency (LibAid) - driven from their home town of the same name to the east of Tripoli.
Now Tawergha community leaders say they are fed up waiting for reconciliation to start, and in June this year say they will leave their 20-odd camps - mainly in Tripoli and Benghazi - to return home.
“The life which we live now, it is no different from dying, and so we prefer to die at home,” Abdelrahman Mahmoud, head of the Local Council of the Tawergha in Tripoli, told IRIN.
“This is our final decision. We tried with all sides. We are weak, what can we do? What threat are we to anyone? We are normal people and we want to live our lives.” Informal settlements
At the Felallah IDP camp in Tripoli around 1,000 Tawergha live in temporary cabins next to a large construction site, crammed into dormitory rooms and supported by food supplies from LibAid and with monitoring support from the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR).
Eviction from similar sites and student dormitories is a frequent threat.
“If any camps are evicted this will create a big crisis - it will be very difficult to find a place for them,” said Mohamed Al Sweii, an adviser on international cooperation and coordination with LibAid.
As the Libyan economy picks up and international companies start to return, displaced people find their informal settlements under pressure.
LibAid, the government’s humanitarian arm set-up in 2006 and under the responsibility of a deputy prime minister, tries to negotiate with companies where possible, and coordinates with international agencies and local NGOs to provide material support.
The UN has been providing humanitarian support with a special focus over the past year on helping LibAid set-up a database to track IDPs for Tawerghas, and also, other ethnic groups such as the Mshashiya and Qawalish.
“There have been improvements… but even today the conditions in which they are living are not really acceptable,” said Georg Charpentier, UN deputy special representative and resident coordinator in Libya.
“From a humanitarian point of view, it is not right that a resourceful country like Libya has a number of its own citizens living under those conditions.” What happened?
The town of Tawergha and its population of around 35,000 were attacked by anti-Gaddafi brigades during the 2011 conflict, mainly from the nearby town of Misrata, 40km to the north.
An estimated 550,000 people were displaced by the fighting in Libya, according to UNHCR, though most have now returned.
But the Tawergha remain displaced. They live in camps and with host families, though some are held in detention, often still under the authority of local militias.
About 1,300 people from Tawergha are detained, missing, or dead, according to Human Rights Watch, which said earlier this month that crimes committed against the Tawerghans “may amount to crimes against humanity and could be prosecuted by the ICC”.
The generally dark-skinned Tawergha were accused by the brigades of siding with Qaddafi and of killing and raping residents of Misrata during the revolution
Among the missing Tawergha is the husband of Aicha*, an IDP living at the Felallah camp. A mother of three, she has not heard from her husband for 18 months since he was taken by armed men along with their car in downtown Tripoli. IRIN