A decade after Gaddafi’s fall, residents of Tawarga still can’t return home

The image on the left shows a water tank that has been out of service since 2011. The image on the right shows the Fallah 1 camp where displaced persons from Tawarga live in difficult conditions
The image on the left shows a water tank that has been out of service since 2011. The image on the right shows the Fallah 1 camp where displaced persons from Tawarga live in difficult conditions © Mohamed Radouane

Ten years after the fall of former Libyan president Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, many people from the town of Tawarga are still living in displaced persons camps, unable to return to their city. Tawarga, an enclave of support for Gaddafi, was engaged in a bloody feud with the neighbouring city of Misrata. Even after a reconciliation agreement was signed in 2018, Tawarga is still under the control of the Misrata government and the city remains in ruins. 

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In an attempt to crush the uprising against the regime in February 2011, the government of then-president Muammar Gaddafi deployed armed forces from Tawarga, a city in the north that is home to a rare Black minority, to the coastal city of Misrata, located 40 kilometres to the north, in an attempt to control the rebels there. But in August 2011, the Misrata militias got the upper hand and took over Tawarga, carrying out a series of violent reprisals. A large number of Tawarga residents were forced to flee their city. 

In June 2018, seven years after the conflict, a reconciliation agreement was signed between Tawarga and Misrata. But as of today, only 1,300 families from Tawarga have been able to return to their homes, out of the 48,000 people who lived in the town before Gaddafi’s fall.

The rest are still living in displaced persons camps all over the country. Many of them face extremely difficult living conditions, as shown in this video filmed February 14 near a makeshift school in the Fellah 1 displaced persons camp near Tripoli.

école
école © Mohamed Radouane
camp Fellah 1
camp Fellah 1 © mohamed Radouane
camp Fellah 1
camp Fellah 1 © Mohamed Radouane

This photos show the Fellah 1 camp near Tripoli, home to many people who fled Tawarga. © Mohamed Radouane.

The reconciliation agreement from 2018 has a clause stating that Tawarga recognises that it committed crimes during the revolution. However, the agreement also includes provisions for government reparations for both Tawarga and Misrata. There is a budget of 170 million dinars (31 million euros) for rebuilding Tawarga. In 2019, the government released 25 million dinars (4.62 million euros) from this budget.

“There’s no hope of finding work in Tawarga ”

The president of the commission for the implementation of this agreement, on the Tawarga side, Abdennebi Bouaraba, believes that the situation in the city is making it difficult for returning refugees.

Most public and private buildings in the town were damaged during the clashes in 2011. There is a serious lack of liquidity in all of Libya and that means that even though the agreement does in theory provide financial support for residents who want to return and need to repair their homes, they will be unable to access this money. 

ruines Tawarga
ruines Tawarga © observers
ruines Tawarga
ruines Tawarga © observers
Damaged buildings in Tawarga. © Observers

The government needs to start compensating residents. Before, there were many poultry and livestock farms that generated jobs but they were destroyed in the fighting and the land has been unusable since 2011. But even if residents want to come back, they have no hope of getting work and making a living for themselves. However, the municipal government is in operation and it provides several dozen public service jobs. 

But along with the question of infrastructure, there are also ongoing disagreements over the reconciliation agreement and that also makes it harder for people to return to Tawarga. 

But along with the question of infrastructure, there are also ongoing disagreements over the reconciliation agreement and that also makes it harder for people to return to Tawarga.

“The reconciliation agreement is more political than social”

Mohamed Radouane is the president of an organisation called the League of Tawarga’s detained and disappeared. He says that the reconstruction efforts are also slowed by lack of political will:

There are about a dozen displaced persons camps in the area around Tripoli. The largest is in Janzour [Editor’s note: This site, located in a western suburb of the capital, is home to about 500 families.]

The living conditions are extremely hard for families. This camp, for example, was set up in factories that had to close when it became too dangerous to operate.

After the reconciliation agreement, promises were made that reconstruction was on the horizon. But, two years later, the work hasn’t progressed at all. Not even 10% of the town has been rebuilt. Primary schools, high schools, roads— none of those important infrastructures have been repaired. 

 

lycée de filles Tawarga
lycée de filles Tawarga © mohamed Radouane

A girls school in Tawarga in 2021 © Mohamed Radouane

The six water tanks that supply the town were destroyed in 2011 and remain out of service. Moreover, you can’t get a stronger electrical current than 160 volts, which isn’t strong enough to power basic domestic electrical appliances. In these conditions, it’s basically impossible to imagine thousands of people returning, especially because of a lack of political will to make it happen. 

 

réservoirs eau Tawarga
réservoirs eau Tawarga © mohamed Radouane

 

réservoirs eau Tawarga
réservoirs eau Tawarga © mohamed Radouane

This photo shows one of Tawarga’s ruined water tanks. © Mohamed Radouane

 

centrale electrique Tawarga
centrale electrique Tawarga © mohamed Radouane

This photo shows one of the power plants in Tawarga. © Mohamed Radouane

According to Mohamed Radouane, the reconciliation agreement states that Tawarga will still be run by Misrata’s government, which isn’t really encouraging the return of displaced people:

The reconciliation agreement gives the city government in Misrata control over Tawarga. Tawarga’s municipal council is annexed to Misrata’s city hall as is the police station. It shows the level of distrust and wariness towards our community. A hundred sixty police officers from Tawarga refused to work under the control of Misrata. They wrote “Tawarga’s police post under Misrata” on the walls.

There’s a lot of bad feeling because, in 2011, militias from Misrata attacked the town’s only police post.

In my role as the rapporteur for the social commission during negotiations in 2018, I witnessed the representatives of Misrata refuse to recognize that they committed any crimes in forcing Tawarga’s residents to flee their homes in 2011. They also refused to give us any information about the fate of the 363 people from Tawarga who disappeared during these events. On the other hand, our return is conditional— those accused of “war crimes” must be brought to justice. 

In this context, many people from Tawarga prefer to remain in exile instead of returning and living under Misrata’s control. In summary, I think this agreement is political and doesn’t heal the wounds of the past.

 

Since 2014, Libya has been torn apart by a civil war between the forces of Marshal Khalifa Haftar, who controls Benghazi and the eastern part of the country, and the military units in the region around Tripoli. 

In April 2019, Marshal Haftar launched an attack on the capital in an attempt to overthrow the national unity government run by Fayez Sarraj and thus gain control of the entire country. With support from Turkey, the forces based in Tripoli managed to push back Haftar in May 2020. This fighting has forced hundreds of thousands of people to flee their homes.  

According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, the UNHCR, there are currently 392,241 displaced persons in Libya.

Negotiations between the different powers in Libya took place in Tunisia, Morocco and Switzerland and, finally resulted in the appointment of a new interim prime minister, Abdel Hamid Dbeibah, and a president of the Libyan Presidential Council, Mohamed al-Menfi. This new body is charged with organising new elections before the end of the year and ending ten years of chaos.