Niger is the poorest country in Africa and the world: Many of its citizens go hungry every day, many children die before their fifth birthday, and countless thousands die in famines. Now, it’s getting poorer still, as black migrant workers from Niger are forced to leave neighboring Libya because of the color of their skin in the aftermath of the revolution there. Workers used to send money home to Niger from Libya, enabling impoverished family members to survive. But now these workers have been forced to leave Libya, where some black migrant workers were lynched, and many others have been rounded up and jailed in appalling conditions after being falsely accused of being mercenaries for the brutal, recently-ousted dictator Muammar el-Qaddafi.
As the New York Times reports,
For tens of thousands of people from Niger, the downfall of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi has been an economic catastrophe, plunging them suddenly from a world of good pay in Libya back into the precarious universe of their home country, one of the poorest and most dependent nations on earth. Officials in Niger estimate that at least 200 people continue to arrive daily. The government admits that it does not have the resources to help them.
More than 200,000 Nigeriens have fled the fighting since March, according to the government here, laboriously traversing the desert from Libya, where they were earning unheard-of sums, by local standards, as tailors, security guards, cooks and drivers. A majority of those who fled are now destitute, hungry and, along with the thousands of families dependent on remittances from Libya, without prospects. Officials in Niger estimate that at least 200 people continue to arrive daily, and that more probably come through the porous desert border crossings. The government admits that it does not have the resources to help them and is pleading with outside donors for help . . . it is disastrous in a country where the World Bank says more than 60 percent of people live in extreme poverty, where famine lurks when rains do not arrive . . .Suddenly, the migrants who had supplied Libya’s labor . . . find themselves thrust into a domain where limbless beggars congregate at intersections.
Nigeriens have been forced to leave Libya because they are no longer welcome there, and have been subject to mass jailings and summary executions.
As the Times earlier noted, during the Libyan revolution,
many rebels were turning their wrath against migrants from sub-Saharan Africa, imprisoning hundreds for the crime of fighting as “mercenaries” for Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi without any evidence except the color of their skin.
Many witnesses have said that when Colonel Qaddafi first lost control of Tripoli in the earliest days of the revolt, experienced units of dark-skinned fighters apparently from other African countries arrived in the city to help subdue it again. Since Western journalists began arriving in the city a few days later, however, they have found no evidence of such foreign mercenaries.
Still, in a country with a long history of racist violence, it has become an article of faith among supporters of the Libyan rebels that African mercenaries pervaded the loyalists’ ranks. And since Colonel Qaddafi’s fall from power, the hunting down of people suspected of being mercenaries has become a major preoccupation.
Human rights advocates say the rebels’ scapegoating of blacks here follows a similar campaign that ultimately included lynchings after rebels took control of the eastern city of Benghazi more than six months ago. . .
Many Tripoli residents — including some local rebel leaders — now often use the Arabic word for “mercenaries” or “foreign fighters” as a catchall term to refer to any member of the city’s large underclass of African migrant workers. Makeshift rebel jails around the city have been holding African migrants segregated in fetid, sweltering pens for as long as two weeks on charges that their captors often acknowledge to be little more than suspicion. The migrants far outnumber Libyan prisoners, in part because rebels say they have allowed many Libyan Qaddafi supporters to return to their homes if they are willing to surrender their weapons.
The detentions reflect “a deep-seated racism and anti-African sentiment in Libyan society,” said Peter Bouckaert, a researcher with Human Rights Watch who visited several jails. “It is very clear to us that most of those detained were not soldiers and have never held a gun in their life.”
Libyans seem misguided in assuming black people were mercenaries based on their race. While Qaddafi did hire mercenaries from neighboring countries, many of the mercenaries were Tuaregs, a mostly-white Berber ethnic group, not black Africans.
The revolution in Libya will likely lead to a better life for Libya’s own citizens, since it ousted long-time dictator Qaddafi, a vicious man who killed many people and imposed stultifying political and economic oppression on his people (even though Libya’s new leaders include some Islamic radicals, including one who fought with the Taliban against the U.S.). But it clearly has had some very bad consequences for neighboring Niger, and may have some other bad side effects as well, in the realm of international relations, as GMU Professor Ilya Somin notes at this link. The racial mistreatment of the migrant workers from Niger violates international human-rights treaties like the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.