Migrants from sub-Saharan Africa trapped in Libya are being forced to fight for soldiers loyal to Moammar Gaddafi against rebel groups in that country’s bloody civil war.
According to a report in Al Jazeera, some of these migrants – who have no way of getting home – have been abducted or kidnapped and pressured to fight along with Gaddafi loyalists.
While some Africans were able to flee Libya at the onset of the revolt, many hundreds of thousands remain stranded in the country – some of them have been subject to reprisals by rebel forces who accuse them of being mercenaries for the Libyan leader.
A Nigerian migrant, who has worked in Libya for eight years as a technician, told Al Jazeera he was abducted in March at a military checkpoint in Tripoli, along with other men from Ghana, Mali and Niger, before being moved to a military center.
There was up to 100 people in the courtyard and military trucks were arriving and leaving with more people,” he said.
“They started beating people, I saw them shoot one Ghanaian in front of me. The atmosphere was very intimidating. They put us into a vehicle and we were driven into the desert. I saw an oil refinery, there was evidence of bomb strikes, burnt out vehicles and a strong smell. I think it was Ras Lanouf.
Similarly, a Ghanaian migrant said he was abducted from his home in Sirte.
They asked us why we were trying to leave the country and that we must stay to fight for when the Americans come, he said. We were taken to a police station and then to an underground hospital which they ordered us to clean.
Gaddafi has long hired foreign mercenaries from all over Africa to serve as his soldiers and executioners. But it is unclear how many Africans have been used for this purpose – either voluntarily or by coercion.
Jeremy Keenan, a professor specializing in North Africa, told Al Jazeera he estimates that between 5,000 and 10,000 mercenaries may have entered Libya during this civil war.
If you've got a million migrants milling around in Libya, mostly from sub-Saharan Africa, all paperless with no ID, I suspect he's using them, not Libyans, as human shields,” he said.
“The key thing is he [Gaddafi] has got them over a barrel, they can't leave. I think the opposition people, when they bump into anyone fighting against them who is speaking another language and looks black, irrespective of how they got into Gaddafi's hands, they are using the word mercenary. There is a lot of confusion there.
There are also reports that Gaddafi has hired mercenaries from neighboring Algeria and even Belarus in eastern Europe.