Dr. Jebril El-Abidi
Libyan writer and researcher

On the Forgotten and Abused Southern Libya

Libya’s southern border has become a site of extreme tension. The developments in Sudan, the military coup in Niger and before it Chad, and the conflict with the opposition, have exacerbated the already chaotic situation in this region that had already been infiltrated by wanton armed militias... All of these factors are the reason for the operations of the Libyan army launched in the South. The army intervened to rectify things and restore stability after the forgotten southern Libya became an occupied zone. Indeed, foreign militias have exploited the political vacuum and chaos in southern Libya to turn it into a launching pad for their activities. 

These militias also see an opportunity to put their hands on the resources of this region amid the chaos. Some have even attempted to settle communities that have tribal links within Libya in the place of Libyan citizens, arguing that they are their kin. They have gone as far as committing ethnic massacres in this devastated region. Tamanhint is not the only region under occupation. Wadi Issa is occupied, as are the Tibesti mountains, Aouzou, the Sahara desert, and Ghat. The geographical borders of Libya as we know them are occupied and not merely violated.

However, it seems that Libya's new rulers have redefined the geography of the country. What is happening in southern Libya does not concern Dbeibah’s government, whose sprint to Tel Aviv was only obstructed by a popular backlash. The government has behaved as though the South is a heavy burden that must be avoided. The government should be standing by this region and understand whether we are facing a foreign invasion and occupation of the south by Chadian and Nigerien militias and gangs, with the help of local ones.

We have many questions, but this self-proclaimed "national unity" government has not provided any answers. Its operations remain confined to Tripoli and its environs. It is only concerned with extending its time in power through unjustified extensions, even allying with Netanyahu and Cohen to extend its mandate and avoid a vote of no-confidence amid the political tug-of-war.

This neglect of the south, even though it is the source of all of Libya's wealth - from oil and water to gas, gold, and even uranium - is due to the politicians in the north being preoccupied with the struggle for seats and power, which lies only in the capital, Tripoli. The previous regime had reduced Libya to Tripoli, whereby whoever ruled Tripoli ruled Libya. This mindset remains despite robust opposition across Libya, particularly in the East, to this centralized system, and all the calls for the return to a federal system that could reduce marginalization and create some social justice.

It may be incorrect to insist that 100 percent of the population was demanding change and supportive of the "February 2011 movement." However, it may not be accurate to claim that Libya has been in civil war since then either. Civil wars are fought on tribal or regional grounds, not based on support or opposition to the regime, which was the case in Libya initially. Nonetheless, the situation has changed; we now see disagreements on how to describe it, and civil war has indeed erupted or is on the verge of erupting.

In any case, classification is not important. Both scenarios threaten to destroy Libya amid a complete absence of dialogue and the marginalization of communities, as well as the failure to achieve national reconciliation amid constant quibbling. Meanwhile, southern Libya has seen waves of migration spurred by hunger, disease, and death. So-called "illegal migrants" are sweeping across the Libyan coast crossing the desert, and adding another threat to Libya and its neighbors. Although this terminology reeks of racism against people whose circumstances, be they wars or hunger, have compelled them to migrate and cross borders, they cannot be exempt from criticism.

Rejecting the term does make what is happening acceptable, as these waves of uncontrolled migration give rise to security issues and health problems, and the demographic change they cause spreads epidemics and diseases from one environment to another. Moreover, this threat is made more pressing by the fact that detention centers are not equipped for quarantining those with contagious diseases. 

The migrants suffering from contagious diseases will use the same water sources and public sewage systems as the Libyan people, which poses an environmental hazard that will have dangerous repercussions on public health amid the health system's inability to meet the requirements for early detection of diseases among the “illegal migrants” in Libyan detention centers. Moreover, global institutions like the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees have failed to achieve their goals of providing international protection to refugees and finding sustainable solutions to their issues.

Additionally, since the health threats that ensue from this transfer of diseases from one environment to another demand international solidarity, Libya is not the only one facing security and health risks. These migrants aim to eventually reach Europe. Thus, deportation centers must be equipped with medical laboratories and staffed by medical professionals with training in the early detection of diseases. They must also be equipped to offer health services and granted the tools needed to report highly contagious diseases rapidly.

Despite this, the International Organization for Migration also does not provide any real, effective services to address these problems engendered by illegal migration, making things even worse. Furthermore, regional and European states and institutions have also been reluctant to assist Libya in monitoring its borders and helping migrants and refugees, nor have they worked on addressing any of the root causes of this migration.

In light of this state of affairs and the political divisions ripping the country apart, it will become difficult for Libyan health authorities to maintain control and keep Libyan citizens safe from contagious diseases. Efforts to address migration issues are already being launched. This may end with us Libyans cursing the starving migrants whose circumstances have been exploited, some to make them fight in proxy wars.