Soldiers of the Sudanese Rapid Support Forces (RSF) show migrants who tried to cross illegally into neighboring Libya, at camp in Gouz Abudloaa, some 100 kilometers from Khartoum, Sudan on September 25, 2019 | Photo: EPA/Marwan Ali
Soldiers of the Sudanese Rapid Support Forces (RSF) show migrants who tried to cross illegally into neighboring Libya, at camp in Gouz Abudloaa, some 100 kilometers from Khartoum, Sudan on September 25, 2019 | Photo: EPA/Marwan Ali

An unknown number of migrants are being recruited in Libya to fight on both sides of the civil war, suspects the United Nations refugee agency UNHCR. That is according to reports from the German press agency dpa.

According to dpa, UNHCR is worried that migrants are being recruited to fight on both sides of Libya's civil war. "Some people who were in detention camps in Libya have reported that they were given the choice, stay in the camp for an unknown period of time, or be sent to the front to fight," the UNHCR's Special Envoy for the Central Mediterranean, Vincent Cochetel reportedly told dpa.

Although Cochetel couldn’t give a precise figure, he said that the majority of those recruited come originally from Sudan. "We think that might be because they can speak Arabic," Cochetel told dpa. "If they decide to leave the camps to go and fight then they are provided with a uniform and a weapon and sent to the front to fight in the civil war."

Forced recruitment

Reports from summer 2019 appear to confirm this supposition. In July 2019, the Washington Post published a long article in which it quoted a Sudanese woman called Rawiya Youssef. She managed "to escape a migrant camp by bribing a guard and finding work cleaning homes." On her liberation from the camp she went to stay with a woman called Asya Ibrahim Adam, according to the Washington Post. This woman had reportedly fled Sudan in the mid-1990s and had found work cleaning in Tripoli. "In early May, a group of fighters arrived at Adam's door, demanding to know whether her two sons, aged 23 and 21, were inside." Youssef told the Washington Post that "they were trying to get Asya's kids to join their militia." The woman Adam also told the Washington Post that "Other Sudanese families with fighting-age kids were also targeted."Sudan which borders several countries with internal conflicts is clamping down on migration - with EU help

In December 2019, a separate report in The Guardian newspaper looked at the phenomenon of Sudanese mercenaries "flocking" to Libya to join the fighting. This report said that Sudanese men were being recruited by both sides to join the fighting in Libya. One commander in General Khalifa Haftar Libyan National Army (LNA) forces fighting against the UN-recognized government told The Guardian "a lot of young men [are coming]… we even do not have the capacity to accommodate these big numbers."  

Fighters from Darfur

Many of these men, allege the Guardian were recruited in Darfur, where they had been fighting, to come and fight in Libya. Others though, they said had "traveled there to enlist." The Guardian quoted another commander in the LNA who said that "fighting as mercenaries in Libya was the only way to obtain resources necessary to fight the Sudanese state in the future."

An expert on Libya at the Clingendael Institution in the Hague, (a Dutch international relations institute and think tank), Jalel Harchaoui reportedly told the Guardian that "younger [Sudanese] are coming in to earn money," before returning to Sudan. Based on estimates from conversations with various commanders, the newspaper estimated that there could be as many as 3,000 Sudanese fighting in Libya.

Mercenaries and smugglers

The situation is further complicated, alleges the Guardian because some of these fighting units are making extra money on the side by smuggling migrants, hoping to get to Europe, into Libya. With the two income streams mixing, it is not a huge leap to imagine that either through coercion or desperation, some young Sudanese migrants could also end up fighting on the Libyan front, even if they didn’t originally intend to fight as mercenaries.Central security support force carry weapons during the security deployment in the Tajura neighborhood east of Tripoli Libya January 14 2020  Photo ReutersIsmail ZitounyAn international conference on the Libyan peace process scheduled for this weekend in Berlin will bring together all the warring parties in Libya as well as the biggest international players, from Turkey, to Russia, and various EU governments. A ceasefire has been suggested for several weeks now but discussions remain on a knife-edge.

Worsening security situation

The UNHCR, which is one of the few international bodies present in Libya, has repeatedly warned that the security situation in the country is worsening and it has even evacuated many of its personnel for security reasons. The organization is hoping to expand its help to vulnerable refugees and asylum seekers living in Libyan cities.

But according to its own assessment of 2019, the demand for help and the numbers of people still in Libya far outweigh the people the UNHCR is actually able to help.


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