AFRICANGLOBE – Tawergha remains a desecrated ghost town more than three years after the imperialist-engineered Libyan counter-revolution, when armed groups from Misrata, nearly 40km to the west, drove indigenous Africans from their homes.
A desolate silence hangs over Tawergha’s empty residential flats, schools and shops, which have been looted and smashed by mortar and bullet shells. Graffiti covers the charred concrete walls, including tributes to revolutionary fighters and caustic racial insults about the town’s former residents.
Since August 2011, an estimated 40,000 displaced Tawerghans have been arrested, tortured and scattered to seek informal shelters in volatile Libyan cities, from Tripoli to Benghazi. Caught between the heavy artillery of the racist warring Misratan and Zintan factions around the Tripoli airport this summer, the 1,200 Tawerghans at a Turkish construction site, known as al-Falah camp, crouched in an open basement for cover as their food storage building went up in flames.
“Everyone says Tripoli is now safe, but we cannot move,” Salim, a 50-year-old teacher who was shot in the arm by fighters, told the international press. “Checkpoints are random; you never know where they are. Misratan forces get excited if they find someone from Tawergha.”
After winning the ferocious battle against Zintan fighters, Misrata counter-revolutionaries have consolidated their power in Tripoli under the Libyan Dawn alliance. Misrata backs the renewed General National Congress (GNC), led by Prime Minister Omar al-Hassi. The international community recognizes Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thani and the House of Representatives exiled in the northeastern town of Tobruk.
Misratans falsely accuse Tawerghan fighters of committing heinous crimes against them during the armed struggle to defend Libya from armed militias, while Tawerghans say their entire community is being collectively punished for the deeds of loyalist pro-Gaddafi fighters among them. High unemployment, insecurity, crowded makeshift schools and clinics, and limited electricity and water have exacerbated the misery of the impoverished Tawerghan community. Many adults rely on their old government salaries to survive.
“Our representative in the government wanted to speak out about the Tawerghan camps, but he was later sent a death threat,” Salim said.
According to Human Rights Watch, the widespread and systematic nature of this ongoing forced displacement amounts to a crime against humanity. Last year, the international community and local leaders warned the Tawerghans about possible deadly confrontations with armed groups if they unilaterally returned en masse. An attempt by Tawerghans in Benghazi to return was stymied by local officials in the coastal port of Ajdabiya.
“Unfortunately the situation of the Tawerghans today is worse than it was nearly four years ago,” HRW researcher Hanan Salah told reporters. “I do not see any kind of development, or taking up of the issue for these people who are still displaced.”
Mohammed, 56, is a Tawerghan schoolteacher who moved to Misrata years ago so his wife could finish university. He said relations were good between the two towns before the militias, and Tawerghans often had jobs in factories.
“I have many friends who are Misratans,” Mohammed said. “I phone some of them still, but they are afraid to talk to me. The militias are controlling Misrata now.”
Surveillance cameras and guards monitor the checkpoints that ring the city. Along the main thoroughfare is the Misrata War Museum, a grim reminder of the bloody battle between Misratans and forces allied with former leader Muammar Gaddafi.
Aiman al-Mani, who runs the memorial and lost friends in the battle, says he had worked and studied with Tawerghans and was surprised that many of them joined the loyalists who supported Gaddafi in the war.
“We have captured a lot of Tawerghans on our wanted lists,” he told the international press. “We are not denying attacks in Tawergha happened, and the allegations against Tawerghans didn’t help. If we are in a new Libya, we want a new, just Libya. A lot of people in Misrata will say the same thing – we just don’t want Tawerghans living near here again.”
Until now, reconciliation efforts and solutions have failed. “You need a reformed Libyan judiciary handling this and that hasn’t happened yet,” Libya expert William Lawrence told the media.
“I have heard of alternative locations suggested for them but I don’t think it’s realistic, and I don’t think it’s necessary. Unless the Tawerghans themselves and whoever is in that community want the Tawerghans there, that seems unworkable.”