The Egyptian workers in Libya…Crisis in need of a solution!  EOHR offers the Ministry of Foreign Affairs recommendations for a quick resolution of the crisis

August 7th, 2014 by Editor

On the 15th of February 2011, Libyan groups of people, political factions and forces, human rights organizations and bodies demanded for the resignation of the Libyan leader “Mohamed Gaddafi”, asserting the right of the Libyan people to express their opinion in peaceful demonstrations and dreaming a new country where wealth is fairly distributed among the people in order to live in mercy thanks to oil revenues. The Libyan revolution and the NATO intervention What raised the immediate concern of the international community was the use of heavy weapons against the rebels by the military forces in the East of Libya, which led the Security Council to issue the Resolutions number 1970 and 1973 on the Libyan case (their content is about the referral of the situation in Libya to the International Criminal Court, ICC, the arms and travel embargo, the freezing of Libyan assets in the Western countries and the establishment of a no-fly zone in the Libyan airspace). This was followed by the sudden intervention of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) with a military operation called the “Odissey Down”, to save Benghazi from falling into the hands of the soldiers of the “Gaddafi” brigades. The air attack on Libya continued through the international Treaty Organization, till the rebels managed to capture Muammar Gaddafi and execute him in the popular way on the 20th of October 2011. The deterioration of the security situation in Libya after the end of NATO intervention After three years since the beginning of the revolution, all the dreams of the Libyan people are broken, with a scenario of instability and insecurity. There is no doubt that the external military intervention in the Libyan question is one of the elements which pushed Libya to the current tragic situation, and this makes it difficult for NATO to assert that it achieved all the goals of its intervention, and in particular the protection of civilians, the reconstruction of Libya and its stability. Civilians in Libya, both citizens and foreigners, became the target of the bloody conflict and disorders witnessed by the country. As result of the deterioration of the security situation Libya witnessed after NATO intervention and the topple of Gaddafi’s regime in 2011, weapons spread all over the country and the activity of militant groups increased. Thus since last July 13, Tripoli has witnessed sporadic clashes between “the forces mantaining Libya’s security and stability”, composed by “the Libyan rebels operation room” and previous rebels from Misrata (North West), and “al-Qaqaa”, “al-Sawaeq” and “al-Madani” brigades from Zintan (North West) based in Tripoli International Airport, in order to control it. These clashes and the terrorist operations did not target only the Libyan factions, but they extended to the foreigners living there, among which Egyptians, who were exposed to many acts of violence, kidnapping and murder. The suffering of the Egyptian workers under the deterioration of the security situation in Libya It is natural that many Egyptian workers spread geographically have been affected by the repercussions of the decline in stability both at the Libyan political and security level. The Libyan market absorbed almost 60% of the Egyptian workers abroad, since the number of Egyptians working in Libya before the revolution reached 1 million and 600 thousand, among which 490 thousand left during the period of the conflict between the Gaddafi brigades and the rebels. Almost 100 thousand Egyptians holding formal residence permits returned and at the moment Egyptians working in Libya are about 1 million and 260 thousand, though there is no official estimation for these workers because lots of them travelled illegally through land ports that cannot be limited to those with an employment, and young people travelled to Libya with some boats. According to what announced lately by the Egyptian Ministry of Civil Aviation in the light of the crisis, 4212 Egyptian citizens have been transferred from the borders (Libyan – Tunisian) with 16 flights. However it is difficult to compute the number of Egyptians arriving from Libya, since they continue flowing across the Libyan – Tunisian borders. Perhaps this crisis has not been the first one, since a previous one negatively affected the Egyptian workers in Tripoli in 1977, as result of the strained relations between the countries, after Al-Sadat visit to Israel and Muammar Gaddafi, who at that time was still a student. The Egyptian workers, 225 million, were forced to leave the country and threatened with arrest in case they did not leave. Moreover, Egyptian workers were affected by the world financial crisis, as Libya led the list of countries which laid off workers and the number of the returning people, according to the labor forces and immigration data, reached 30 thousand during the last 10 days of June 2009. The violent acts to which Egyptian workers are exposed in Libya had never been witnessed before, in particular after they were targeted by terrorist operations more than once. The operations committed by the jihadi group in Libya and the clashes between them and the security forces resulted in the killing of about 90 people, the injury of more than 400 others, according to what announced by the Libyan Ministry of Health, of which more than 20 in their house due to a missile attack, and the death of others in traffic accidents or during the scrambles to entering the Tunisian borders and escaping from Libya. Thus among the crimes committed by this terrorist organization there is the killing of 7 Coptic Egyptians in Libya, according to a Libyan police officer who reported the presence of bodies with gunshot wounds in the head out of Benghazi in the East. In addition two Egyptian workers were found dead, at the end of last July, as result of the fall of random mortars in El-Houari area in Benghazi, after the exchange of mortars between the retired Colonel Khalifa Haftar and the organization “Ansar al-Sharia”. The Egyptians living in Libya did not escape the kidnappings targeting foreigners. Indeed the armed militias kidnapped more than 20 Egyptians, most of them truck drivers, in Ajdabiya in October 2013 in order to reach a compromise with the Egyptian authorities for the release of 13 Libyans, arrested on charges of arms trafficking across the borders. The kidnapping of the 20 Egyptians was not the last one, since 7 workers were released, of which 4 Egyptians, kidnapped by unidentified armed men at Qanfud, Benghazi. The families of 13 young Egyptians from Ismailia, detained in Barak beach, Libya, asked the President Abd elFattah ElSisi to intervene in order to repatriate them. Beside these killing and kidnapping operations, the Egyptian workers in Libya face an unknown fate among the armed militias and this was confirmed by Egyptians in Libya, since most of the Egyptians who tried to return in  their country failed, because of the intensification of clashes among the fighting factions on the Libyan borders. In particular, heavy fightings go on in all airports and camps which were controlled by the armed brigades, and a great number of Egyptians was arrested and detained at the entrance of the governorates, especially those in the hands of the Islamist militants, as the main camp of the Special AsSaiqa Forces, which is the most important military base in Bani Ghazi. This shows that a considerable number of people tried to escape through Tunisia, but only few of them were able to do it. Moreover the main roads, especially the ones close to the airports witness violent clashes with heavy weapons, as those adjacent to Mitiga International Airport, Misrata Airport, Abraq and Tobruk airport, that is the most famous one. Most of the ways are fraught by dangers, especially with the diffusion of ambushes of bandits who force people to leave their properties in return of a safe exit. Many Egyptian workers do not have money to move around the governorates and thus they cannot exit from any border. The Egyptian community communicates with great difficulty, because they perform manual works and architectural professions and most of these companies completely stopped working, especially after the closure of the workers’ representative offices and of the Egyptian consulates there. A number of companies’ leaders revealed the recruitment of workers abroad. The total losses carried by the companies because of the escalating violence in Libya are estimated at about a billion dollars per month with the end of the Egyptian workers’s remittances in Libya. Egyptian efforts to solve the crisis of the Egyptian employment in Libya It seems that what is now happening in Libya has come close to what has been going on in Somalia lately, which means that it has become an offshoot of a failed state on the western borders of Egypt. Libya continues to create lot of troubles to Egypt and now it holds the epicenter of the security efforts; thus Libya has become a lair for extremists and a backyard for terrorists who have a suspicious agenda to exercise pressure on Egypt. This leads to new problems that require more attention, especially considering the large number of Egyptian workers that are exposed to many sufferings every day with extremists groups continuing to kill and threaten them either on account of their nationality or on account of their religious beliefs. In both cases the Egyptian citizens are the victims. It is important to note that the Egyptian state has a special interest in the crisis of Egyptian workers in Libya. Regarding this issue, a national committee charged with following the situation of the Egyptians holds daily meetings in order to follow up on the developments obtained around the clock. They also receive information about the situation on the ground which is related to the situation of Egyptians present across the borders between Tunisia and Libya in order to facilitate the return to the home country of those who wish. The committee also takes immediate decisions that guarantee a fast termination of the current situation in the border region. In addition, the consulate personnel is currently present on the Tunisian side of the borders working around the clock after their number has been more than multiplied in order to facilitate the crossing of Egyptians from Libya to Tunisia through the border crossing of RasGadir. There is a continuing and steady coordination with the Libyan and Tunisian authorities in order to overcome any obstacles. Furthermore, the two Egyptian ambassadors in Tunis and Tripoli make regular calls to the officials in the two countries in order to oversee the speedy crossing measures at the border. Coordination continues with the ministry of civil aviation in order to organize a large number of flights to transport the Egyptian citizens. The Egyptian government is using an airlift between Egyptian and Tunisian airports in order to return those workers who have reached Tunisia. Recommendations for a quick solution to the crisis: Despite these efforts, the lives of the Egyptians that are still present in Libya are in grave danger, and now the displaced Egyptians coming from Libya are in risk of becoming a humanitarian tragedy of great dimension, and now their safety, rescue and protection of life are far too important to be merely observed. Therefore the Egyptian state with its executive authority and its armed forces needs to unite its strength in order to save the Egyptian workers in Libya and guarantee their return to the home country. And in this context the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights proposes the following recommendations: 1) It is necessary to transport the Egyptians immediately using the remaining means of transport beside the airliftsince since there is a large number of Egyptians. This can be done by establishing a naval fleet and road transportation from the border into Tunisia. 2) There should be an agreement with the Tunisian government that allows Egyptians to enter Tunisia and that works with the Egyptian embassy in order to provide appropriate living for the Egyptian workers. 3) There should be an agreement with the Libyan authorities for the intervention of the Egyptian authorities in Libyan in order to protect its citizens considering the deteriorating conditions. 4) The Egyptian government must work through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to provide help to all Egyptians in Libya and to avoid problems. 5) The ministry of Manpower and Emigration should provide jobs for the returnees from Libya in the same areas that they had been working abroad and create job opportunities for them which guarantee them a good life in their country. 6) The Egyptian administration, including the Egyptian army should pay good attention to the Egyptian-Libyan borders which present a great danger, considering the fact that the borders are the main gateway for arms trafficking and illegal immigration into Egypt. 7) The civil society organizations, rescue teams and popular initiatives have to act fast and support the efforts of the government, since it cannot help Egyptians returning from Libya by itself. Many civil society organizations in Egypt have good experience in the area of aid and relief of civilians in civil war areas. They also help those returning from these areas and this is exactly the current condition of the Egyptian workers coming from Libya. 8) The coordination between the civil society organizations, the relief organizations and the popular initiatives as well as the coordination between them and the government is necessary. The Egyptian government can join the representatives of the civil society in a crisis administration committee, of which the immediate formation is here proposed.

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