Mistreatment of African migrants to Libya from the sub-Saharan bring shame onto the the country’s new governing coalition. Targeting such migrants because of their skin color — they are black — is deeply troubling.
Libyan rebels have happily received decisive support from an international community — led by France and the U.S. — who subscribe to race-blind principles. Having been empowered by aid based on these principles, the rebels should not abandon basic human decency in their treatment of migrants from “black Africa,” whom they are unfairly labeling as mercenaries hired by the former regime.
In truth, Ghaddafi cynically manipulated Libya’s relations with sub-Saharan Africa, opening his country to economic migrants, especially from West Africa, and to human smugglers who helped these migrants find ways into Europe. In his brittle attempt at finding international allies, Ghaddafi promoted a pan-Africanism that sought, again cynically, to unite North Africa with the sub-Saharan. That Ghaddafi had no interest in actually buildng bridges beween these two regions fatally undermined his pan-African project. Moreoever, by permitting large numbers of black migrants into Libya, Ghaddafi sowed the seeds of resentment against them by his own resentful and alienated population.
Now that Ghaddafi is gone, rebellious Libyans want the Africans migrants out as well. The views of the Libyan people should be respected but there also should be no violent and immediate expulsion of black Africans either. These migrants in Libya don’t deserve punishment. Rather they should be helped out of the country in an orderly process supervised by the International Organization for Migration or individual governments, perhaps France.
The anti-black attitudes of Libyans are neither unique to Libya or to North Africa. Nor are they new to Libya either. And black migrants face bias even in Europe and in Asia. When a new government forms legally and legitimately in Libya — and a new constitution is written and approved as well — Libyans may decide to halt all new migration into their country. But for now Libyans ought to be patient with the migrants in their midst, and recognize that their presence is only one more legacy of their longtime dictator. Just as all the institutions of Libya will take years to reform or rebuild, so too will its migration rules and regime. For now black migrants ought to be treated fairly and generously. Such an approach by Libyans is justified on its own merits but also would represent a downpayment on what Libyan reformers owe the West — and the rest.