Tama remembers the night in March of last year when the armed men broke into her shared house. “We realized they were there to rob us, so didn’t think about resisting. However, my friend Zalia tried desperately to stop them. Suddenly, for no real reason, one of them shot her. Then they all left.
“Zalia was dead. We kept calling for help, but no one came. Eventually, some sub Saharan men arrived and together we managed to carry her body to the medical center.”
Tama, 29, came to Sabha from Guinea-Bissau four years ago. She had intended to make her way to Europe, but the cost of travel upon the ‘death boats’ that ply their trade between Libya and Europe proved too much. Now she works as a housekeeper in Sabha for 10 Dinars a day. However, in the aftermath of Zalia’s death, Tama is rethinking her plans.
City officials admit they have no definite number for the migrants living in the southern city of Sabha. Abdessalam Bounawara, of the Human Resource Department in the General Instance of the Work Forces thinks there might be as many as 130 thousand living in the city, but, with most undocumented and working unskilled jobs in the city’s grey economy, admits it’s impossible to be certain.
All are at risk from the armed gangs that prey upon them. Abdelwahed Akdir, the Chief of Investigations and Custody in Sabha’s police force says that the increase in the number of weapons has led to a consequent increase in the threat to the migrants. According to Akdir, 443 cases of assault against migrants have been recorded since 2014. 89 percent of these were against the city’s sub-Saharan population. According to Akdir, with most of the perpetrators protected by either the militias or Sabha’s ridged tribal network, the police can do little.
Civil society and public attitudes have proved equally mixed. According to one activist, Mariam Hamdan, there is little understanding of the problem among the city’s non-governmental institutions and none of the awareness campaigns that might normally be expected from the sector have been undertaken.
Public attitudes are also muted. Heading out into the street, Ali Alrhouma attributes the growing number of attacks to a lack of religious faith. Another, Ali Alkadam blames the security services. A third, Abdelwahed Atallah believes that it is not only migrants who are at risk from the gangs, but residents too. He wants to see more security.
The head of Sabha’s Municipality recognizes the problem. He says that the municipality is trying to gain some form of control over the lives of Sabha’s migrants by including them in the city’s residence procedures and issuing them with health certificates. However, with security in Sabha still fragmented after the conflicts of 2014, the fate of Sabha’s migrants is unlikely to feature prominently on anyone’s radar. In the meantime, the city’s gangs will continue to prey upon Sabha’s most vulnerable, the city’s own workforce.