Opinion

Black voices in Libya: targets of violence and sources of free labor

There are calculated to be some three million refugees and migrants in Libya, mostly Black Africans. The nation is a destination and transit area for migrants hit badly by conflict and poor economic conditions compounded by the pandemic. Hardly reported in the Whitestream press and with silence in equal amounts from the EU and UK government, the situation worsens. Many find themselves at risk of death or imprisonment. However, the diaspora is not tolerating this treatment – it’s collectively organizing against it – revealing the Western imperial logic that continues to govern the world and control the lives of Black people. So we hear two voices at risk on the ground in Libya Yambio David and Kaka Fur Andi from the protest group Refugees in Libya (RefugeesinLibya@gmail.com).

Imagine a world where your Black siblings are locked up in warehouses and subjected to torture and sexual violence. Imagine the warehouses are run mercilessly by Libyan militias but paid for by the democratically elected governments of “Fortress” Europe. Then picture that you’re only option is putting your life in the hands of a flimsy boat in the Mediterranean, but the UK and EU-backed Libyan Navy intercepts you and returns you to another windowless warehouse.

We don’t need to imagine. This is the daily reality for Black people in Libya, and it’s getting worse. Around 15,000 people were returned from sea to Libyan prison-come-detention centers in 2021, up from 9,225 in 2019.

The streets of Libya are not safe for us. Our lives do not matter in this society, where we are seen as targets for random violence, easy sources of free labor in agriculture or construction, or kidnapped and ransomed back to our families. We have all fled desperate situations, genocide in Darfur, war, poverty – but there is nothing in the world like Libya. This is the closest thing to hell, and it feels like there’s no escape for us.

“The streets of Libya are not safe for us. Our lives do not matter in this society, where we are seen as targets for random violence, easy sources of free labor in agriculture or construction, or kidnapped and ransomed back to our families

On the ground

Our most immediate concern is for the safety of women and children at Ain Zara (run by the Libyan Ministry of Interior in Tripoli) and the many other detention centers across Libya. Last week men held in Ain Zara were released, but women and children were not. We were not told why, but now reports of rape have emerged, and the reason is all too clear. Their suffering continues as we write.

White Europeans often look back at the transatlantic slave trade and proclaim utter shock and seeming regret. Yet doesn’t Ain Zara and its equivalents throughout Libya remind you of how families were divided on the slave markets of the Caribbean and United States in previous centuries? Of the sexual violence of the slave trade? Do citizens of Fortress Europe know what they are paying for? Do they care?

“Do citizens of Fortress Europe know what they are paying for? Do they care?”

Their leaders certainly know because it has been going on for years and has been extensively documented by Médecins Sans Frontières AKA Doctors Without Borders (MSF), Amnesty International, and the governments themselves.

From the streets of Tripoli, we have written directly to European Union leaders, so they can never claim ignorance in these crimes against humanity.

The EU says they are trying to shut down warehouses, but they are funding them and funding the Libyan coastguard and Navy, which captures Black people and takes them back to the warehouses. But then they write us a letter with these words. Their funding is not a question; it is official and recorded in many organizations like MSF documents. Their letter says the eviction and detention of Black Africans “shocked the world.” Yet, it did not shock them enough to change their policy or evacuate even a single person from Libya. So we are still not heard.

People in the West are told the world, especially Africa, is a difficult and dangerous place. No! White supremacy is actively making our lives difficult and dangerous, so they stay wealthy at the expense of us. White supremacy needs an exploited underclass to keep its capitalist system alive. It requires a deadly border to keep the underclass on one side and its blood-soaked capital on the other.

“White Europeans often look back at the transatlantic slave trade and proclaim utter shock and seeming regret. Yet doesn’t Ain Zara and its equivalents throughout Libya remind you of how families were divided on the slave markets of the Caribbean and United States in previous centuries?”

Flares of resistance

It’s now 120 days since the Libyan “militia-run” government brutally detained all Black people living in the Qaraqārish district of the capital, Tripoli. More than 5,000 were either imprisoned in warehouses or, at best, made entirely homeless. This was when our protest began, and thousands of us gathered on the street outside the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) office. sparks

We had little protection from the weather, hunger, and violence in the street, and we lost some of our numbers. But we were determined to get our message out, writing letters, making contact with ​journalists, and through Twitter. As a result, we now have a website and even a fundraising page to help us survive.

“People in the West are told the world, especially Africa, is a difficult and dangerous place. No! White supremacy is actively making our lives difficult and dangerous, so they stay wealthy at the expense of us”



We stayed outside the UNHCR office from October through to January when, after weeks of violence against us, they closed the center, detained most of us, and took us to warehouses. The authorities are still hunting people who spoke to the media. But we will not be silent.

We have been abandoned by the international community, including the UN, and Europeans are actively working against us. There’s a willingness to brutalize African refugees and migrants on the move and those of us who are trying to get to Europe. This “trade” is fast becoming one of the currencies of despots in countries surrounding “Fortress” Europe. They will gain political capital from their barbarism and gameness to help construct a moat of blood around White Christendom. In the eyes of Western states, they will be “people we can do business with.” Therefore, we see our situation – not unlike the case for Haitian migrants on the US Southern border – as a profound articulation of EU and US imperialism as Ashley Roach covered for MIP last October.

“There’s a willingness to brutalize African refugees and migrants on the move, and those of us who are trying to get to Europe”

Towards our future…

While many of our community, especially our sisters, are still in the Ain Zara and the other prisons and warehouses, we will continue our protests inside and outside their gates. For the moment, there are no signs of hope from within Libya. For all of us, the answer is more solidarity with each other, in Africa and throughout the Black diaspora.

We cry out for your solidarity.

“I am one who be­lieves that what’s happening on the African continent has a direct bearing on what happens to you and me in this country: the degree to which they get independence, strength, and recognition on that continent is inseparable from the degree to which we get independence, strength, and recognition on this continent”

Malcolm X, HARYOU-ACT (Harlem Youth Opportunities Unlimited) Forum, Dec 12. 1964

Black voices in Libya: Yambio David and Kaka Fur Andi are in the protest group Refugees in Libya (RefugeesinLibya@gmail.com).

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