Xenophobia in Libya

The outbreak of violence was described as a reaction by Libyan youths to the surge of more than a million legal and illegal immigrants from Nigeria, Sudan, Ghana, Chad, Niger, Guinea, and Cameroon who have been drawn to oil-rich Libya for work.

Assaults on immigrants began after Libya’s top legislative and executive body ordered a crackdown on employing foreigners, the independent This Day of Lagos reported (Oct. 10). Other press reports said the attacks were sparked either by rivalry between Nigerian and Libyan drug gangs or a dispute at a soccer match.

“Libyans resent the money the immigrants make...and perceive these outsiders as beneficiaries of Gaddafi’s support for African union,” wrote Cameron Duodu for London’s Gemini News Service (Oct. 6). Gaddafi has been touring the continent to promote the formation of a United States of Africa.

In the wake of the violence, the Libyan government summarily deported thousands of immigrants, including more than 4,500 Nigerians. Another 5,000 Nigerians and 5,000 Ghanaians were being evacuated by their own governments. Harrowing accounts by returnees of beatings, arson, robbery, and looting of their homes has generated widespread public anger, particularly in Nigeria, where anti-Libyan street demonstrations in Lagos on Oct. 10 left one person dead and several wounded.

“Gangs of Libyan youth were allowed free rein to attack settlements populated by black Africans, both in large cities like Tripoli and Ben-ghazi and outlying villages,” said Lagos’s independent The Guardian (Oct. 11). “Libyan police either participated in these attacks or looked the other way.”

It was widely reported by the Nigerian media that as many as 500 Nigerians had been killed. But the Nigerian government discounted the claims that would put the toll at far higher than unconfirmed reports of between 12 and 50 dead.

“Muammar Gaddafi, while expressing regret,...accused ‘hidden hostile hands’ of exploiting the situation,” The Guardian reported. The head of Libya’s mission in Nigeria, The Guardian continued, said that “those who were summarily sent packing were gangsters who failed to comply with ‘residence laws.’...The Libyan authorities have to do more than offer vague explanation and platitudes for the events of last weekend.”

Also fueling anger in Nigeria was the reaction of the Nigerian government, which described the deportees as “criminals and prostitutes.” “Rather than strongly condemn the...maltreatment of the illegal aliens from Nigeria, the government...further attacked the victims,” protested Victor Ifijeh and Gbenga Oni-Olusola in This Day (Oct 16).

“The exodus of Nigerians from their fatherland points to the inhospitable socioeconomic conditions at home. Government’s inability to arrest the drift through purposeful leadership and its reluctance to retaliate [for]  the ill-treatment of her citizens abroad has encouraged the trend.”

And in Ghana, similar sentiments were expressed by Lloyd G. Adu-Amoah in the weekly Accra Mail (Oct. 12). “Ghanaians are entitled to a thorough explanation of the circumstances under which fellow compatriots have been reportedly murdered and treated so inhumanely in a country that is an ally. And the value we place on the welfare of Ghanaian citizens both at home and abroad lies at the heart of this shameful tragedy.”