Heavily armed fighters have attacked a camp of about 1,500 refugees on the outskirts of Tripoli, opening fire on its inhabitants. At least six were killed in the incident raising fears that civilians have little protection from militias running amok.
Moreover, the fact that the attack took place just outside the capital itself begs the question of just how much control the interim government actually has over the country.
“Men from Misrata came to the camp [in Janzour district] at 10 o’clock [Monday]. We knew they were from Misrata because it was written all over their cars,” camp resident Huda Bel-Eid said at Tripoli Medical Hospital, Al Jazeera reports.
According to various reports between six and twelve people were killed, including children, women and the elderly. The area around the camp was cut off by the attackers to prevent any help reaching the refugees.
Authorities in Janzour say the refugees armed themselves with knives and sticks to resist the attack. But locals and medics receiving the injured say the camp inhabitants were unarmed. Doctors in Central Tripoli hospital have confirmed they have begun receiving bodies from the camp.
Officials from Misrata military council denied any involvement of its troops in the assault, but locals say they have no doubt the gunmen came from Misrata. They are calling for the residents of the refugee camp to be armed in order to defend themselves from the Misrata brigade attacks.
Many observers note the camp had become home to former residents of the notorious Tawergha city and insist the assault was fuelled by racism against the city’s former black population.
Refugees from Tawergha moved to camps on the outskirts of Tripoli after the city was wiped off the map in August 2011 by rebel forces in a heavily coordinated operation with NATO.
Former residents of Tawergha say they are accused of collaborating with Gaddafi and are regularly being mistaken for sub-Saharan African mercenaries who revolutionary fighters claim fought for Gaddafi in the war. Locals are saying this was used a pretext for the ethnic cleansing of the dark-skinned population of Tawergha.
The city was mostly populated with black Libyans and black migrants, a legacy of its 19th-century origins as a transit town in the slave trade. Driving along the road between Misrata and Tawergha one can read slogans like “the brigade [Misrata brigade] for purging slaves and black skin.”
International human rights organizations have previously documented racist crimes by the Misrata brigade as it targeted the black population of Tawergha.
According to reports by independent media, rebel leaders had been threatening Tawergha long before the uprising. The threats included calling “for drastic measures like banning Tawergha natives from ever working, living or sending their children to schools in Misrata.”
But if racism was only latent before the civil war in Libya, with the post-revolutionary chaos in the country hate crimes are easily disguised.