The Libyan port city of Zouara has issued a deadline for migrants. They are called upon to officially regularize their situation or they will be at risk of expulsion from the city. The Libyan municipality justified its decision by blaming it on a "raised crime rate".
At the start of July, posters started appearing on the fronts of buildings frequented by sub-Saharan migrants in Zouara, a coastal town in western Libya. "The municipality of Zouara announces to all residents of the city to correct their legal situation from the date of this announcement within 10 days or leave voluntarily," reads the document obtained by InfoMigrants. Issued on July 1, 2021, it urges migrants to leave by July 10.
After that date, a "vast security plan" will be put in place by the city's council to enforce the measure, the poster states. What exactly is this "plan"? What will happen to the migrants who have not left the city? It is difficult to know. The Zouara town hall did not respond when contacted by InfoMigrants.
Impossible to register
This order by the city of Zouara raises issues for Ahmad Hamza, president of the National Committee for Human Rights in Libya. Speaking with InfoMigrants, he emphasizes that security is the responsibility of the Ministry of Interior and not of the municipalities. "The local authorities should arrest the people smugglers, who are citizens of Zouara, rather than threatening the migrants like this," he said.
Regularizing migrants is a challenge in Libya and most people from sub-Saharan Africa have no intention of settling in the country. Almost all of them are there as part of their journey to try to cross the Mediterranean to reach Europe.
This is the situation for Ibrahima*. This 17-year-old Guinean has been living in Zouara for more than a year and has already tried several times to cross to Europe. While waiting to earn enough money for a new start over there, he works on construction sites in the city.
The teenager was surprised when he saw the posters of the municipality. Especially since, according to him, the few people he knows who did try to officially register were prevented. "Friends paid 100 dinars to get an appointment but they never got it," he says. "We figure they [Libyans] are doing all this just to take more of our money."
Also read: Over 260 migrants rescued off Tunisia
Influx of migrants in Zouara
The city's authorities assure that the order is motivated by "an increasing number of [migrant] arrivals in the city (...), the high crime rate within their neighborhoods (...) and the appearance of bodies on the city's shores."
The city of Zouara is known to be a departure point for migrant boats to Europe. For several weeks, more and more migrants have been arriving in the area, hoping to board a boat and escape Libya. "Every day new people arrive in Zouara because the smugglers have a reputation for being good here," says Ibrahima.
This "good reputation" comes from the fact that the smugglers in the city use wooden boats, which are reputed to be less risky than inflatable boats.
But this better safety is relative. In reality, any attempt to cross the Mediterranean is extremely dangerous. On July 3, at least 43 people disappeared off the coast of Tunisia when a boat from Zouara sank.
Also read: MSF to suspend activities in two Libyan detention centers
'Black people are regularly assaulted by the police'
Attempted migrant departures from Libya have already increased significantly in 2021. This increase can be explained by a deterioration in the already complicated living conditions of migrants in the country. For several weeks, migrants across the country have been targeted by militias and police. A number of them reported to InfoMigrants that they had been shot at in the street "for no reason."
The city of Zouara is no exception to this trend. In one of the city's neighborhoods, "black people are regularly assaulted by the police," Ibrahima reports. "When you go home, they can put you in a vehicle, beat you up and leave you in the desert near Sabratha," the teenager continues.
Other sources have told InfoMigrants about multiple incidents that occurred in mid-June in which migrants were assaulted by the local population of Zouara. Several of them were hospitalized as a result of the violence.
The migrants are understandably concerned. Some have expressed their desire to leave the area but do not have the means to do so. Above all, leaving Zouara without a specific destination and without protection also means taking the risk of being kidnapped by militias on the country's roads.
Ibrahima and his friends are very worried about their safety. "We are very afraid, everyone here is panicking."
*His first name has been changed.