Sherif Targi *, 21, decided to leave Libya for his journey to Europe after witnessing too many deaths. “I saw murders and massacres for the conflict between the Tuareg and the Tebu [minorías étnicas]”, dice.
Targi is a Tuareg, originally from the city of Ubari, located in the desert of southwestern Libya. During Muammar Gaddafi’s regime, the Tuareg suffered discrimination: the government did not provide them with identity documents and restricted access to work and public services. Things did not improve once the dictator was overthrown.
In October 2019, Targi left her home and traveled more than 1,000 kilometers to reach the coastal city of Zuwara. From there, already integrated into a group of about 200 people, mostly Syrians, Moroccans and Sudanese, they got on board an overloaded wooden boat and embarked on a dangerous 18-hour journey.
A decade after the revolution, the number of Libyans who decide to face the risky sea voyage from Libya continues to increase. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) registered the arrival of 386 Libyans to Italy via this route at the end of December 2020, almost double the arrivals in 2019. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) detected an increase of 52% in Libyans arriving in Europe compared to 2019 figures.
An economy already weakened and badly hit by the pandemic contributes to pushing the exodus. “The pandemic has made the economy suffer and has caused a reduction in oil and gas exports. It is also difficult for Libyans to collect their pensions, and there has been a huge increase in youth unemployment,” explains Vincent Cochetel, Special Envoy of Acnur in the central and western Mediterranean.
Border closures and limited movement due to lockdowns linked to COVID-19 hurt workers’ ability to earn a living, says the expert. “They depend on border trade and the smuggling of products, such as tobacco or gasoline, to survive.”
Cochetel predicts a continued increase in Libyan emigration in 2021 if the economy does not improve. “Libyans tend to stay in their country, even displaced, or to seek help from relatives in Tunisia and Egypt,” he says. “But we must continue to pay attention to the recent devaluation of the Libyan dinar.”
Corruption and insecurity are among the other factors driving the population out of Libya. Mousa Someaidi of Nedaa, a human rights and community work organization, says that the corruption of Libyan administrations – divided into two rival governments based in Tripoli and Benghazi – endangers the continuity of basic public services such as electricity. and the population’s confidence in the state has decreased.
“There is fear of insecurity in cities like Tripoli or Sirte, and in places further south like Murzuq. Also, prices and inflation are rising fast. Banks and the Finance Ministry have limited cash withdrawals to amounts ranging from 500 and 1,000 dinars [entre 300 y 600 euros]”, Add.
Some believe that there is hope for Libya if the parties comply with the comprehensive peace agreement signed by the two rival governments last October. But the defense minister has already threatened to withdraw from it.
“If there is a comprehensive political agreement, elections and a new constitution, the peace agreement will benefit us. It would undoubtedly decrease the number of Libyans who leave the country by sea. It could end all emigration. But if there is another conflict like the one we saw in 2019 we will see how the coasts are filled with Libyans ”
After hours at sea, the Italian Coast Guard rescued Targi’s cayuco. Finally, they reached Italy. “I have not experienced anything worse than this trip. The boat was old, we were overloaded at sea for two days. The engine had no power. If the coast guard had not found us, we would have died,” says Targi.
After traveling to France irregularly, he boarded a train to Belgium, where he hopped on a truck to reach the United Kingdom. He managed to cross the English Channel and settled in London. Now he studies science at the university.
His friends, those who stayed in Ubari, say the city has gone from bad to worse. Mahmoud Twareg, Targi’s childhood friend, says it continues to be a dangerous place with no opportunities.
“The schools are in poor shape and there are not enough teachers. The hospitals do not have the necessary staff and resources,” says Twareg. “There is no security, there are armed groups and gangs everywhere. The peace agreement does not improve anything in Ubari. [el señor de la guerra, el General Khalifa] Haftar are back. ”
Targi believes that even if the agreement is upheld in the rest of the country and Libya leaves the war behind, his life will continue its course far from home. “I want to finish my studies. I don’t expect life in Ubari to improve, so I won’t be back anytime soon.”
* Names have been changed.
Translated by Alberto Arce