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Tchad – Eppur si muove Part II: Trapped

08/07/2012
Chadian immigrants in the Libyan desert in 2011 (EU Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection)

Chadian immigrants in the Libyan desert in 2011 (EU Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection)

Trapped: Why 2,400 Immigrants Risk Dying In The Libyan Desert

A new humanitarian crisis is unfolding after the fall of Gaddafi: thousands of immigrants from sub-Saharan Africa, as well as some from Pakistan and Syria, have been detained in the middle of the desert in southern Libya. No way out, and conditions are life-threatening.

“It’s a nightmare,” says Sebastian, a 36-year-old plumber from Benin. “I have no idea what’s going to happen to me – if I’m going to die here or if they are going to let me go. I have no money, no passport, no phone. It’s as if I no longer existed.”

Sebastian was one of the first to be interned at this camp created a month ago by the Libyan army. Gradually he was joined by hundreds of others from Chad, Niger, Ethiopia, Mali, Pakistan, Syria and the Bengal region of India and Bangladesh. All were arrested as they crossed over clandestinely from Niger, Chad or Sudan.

They’ve been surviving since in this prison without bars, guarded by about a dozen soldiers. Meals consist of one or two plates of rice a day. “The thirst is the worst,” says Suleiman, a 19-year-old Chadian. “There’s barely a liter of water a day. And it’s not good – it’s full of dust and sand.” Some 40 of the detainees are sick with diarrhea or wounds that haven’t been tended to. A Sudanese adolescent has a dislocated shoulder, the result of falling off the pick-up truck that brought him across the border. Behind him is a Beninese with an eye so red and swollen he can no longer open it. “It hurts more and more. The sand and dust have become encrusted in the eyelid,” he says.

Colonel Saleh, the police chief, admits that he’s “worn-down psychologically.” Night has fallen. He looks out at the prisoners sleeping in the sand around camp fires. “It’s not right to inflict this on them. If nobody does anything, they’ll die here. I’m at the point where I ask myself if it wouldn’t be better if I just let them go.”

* Tchad: Eppur si muove

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