(HN, September 3, 2011) - As rebel groups fight to liberate Tripoli, the UN and other aid agencies are receiving an increasing number of reports of migrants in need of assistance and protection.
Individual migrants say they are scared to leave their homes for fear of being arrested or killed, claiming that even documented migrants are afraid to go out and find food and water because others have done so and have not returned home.
Part of the problem may be that some migrants are being mistaken as mercenaries employed by Libya's former leader Moammar Gadhafi - many of whom are from other African nations.
“Sub-Saharan Africans, they are either perceived to have been mercenaries or associated with mercenaries. So that is a possible reason for why they would be targeted. I’m not sure. I cannot really say that this is the case for every single story that we have heard. But certainly it is a factor,” IOM spokesperson Jemini Pandya said at a news briefing in Geneva monitored by HUMNEWS.
According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), despite a slow improvement of the situation in Tripoli where there is limited access to food, potable water and fuel, the security situation nevertheless remains potentially volatile.
Although there are no reliable figures on the existing migrant population in Tripoli and from growing number of anecdotal reports, it is clear there are a high number of very vulnerable migrants in the city. Other organizations are also alerting IOM to migrant groups they have come across and who are in need of help.
Most of the migrants are from African countries such as Nigeria, Sudan, Egypt, Ghana, Niger, Mali and Ethiopia. A maid employed by one of Gadhafi's sons and tortured almost beyond recognition is Ethiopian.
Most migrants are deliberately not congregating in large numbers to avoid being conspicuous or targeted. Access to Sub-Saharan migrants is still being hampered by security issues and individually-constructed check-points or because the migrants are afraid to meet.
While many of the migrants want IOM to help them leave Libya, others don't. Among them are a group of 800 Sub-Saharan Africans stranded at a fishing port who are either too scared to return to their home countries and want asylum or who have no prospect of a livelihood upon returning.
The significant increase in food prices and either limited or no access to funds to buy what is available means there are ever-growing numbers of migrants in need of humanitarian assistance.
"Access to food is clearly a major issue for migrants in Tripoli. The first group of migrants IOM evacuated from Tripoli last week were really hungry. As a result we increased our food supplies on subsequent evacuations," says IOM Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa, Pasquale Lupoli.
Meanwhile, IOM staff in Tripoli are continuing to work to access vulnerable migrants. For those who want to leave Libya, the Organization is now working on an evacuation operation by road.
Nearly 1,600 migrants and vulnerable Libyans have been evacuated by IOM by boat from Tripoli so far.
- IOM, HUMNEWS staff