Saturday,21 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1294, (5 - 11 May 2016)
Saturday,21 July, 2018
Issue 1294, (5 - 11 May 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Work and danger

Kamel Abdallah reports on last week’s slaughter of 12 Egyptians in Libya

Al-Ahram Weekly

The killing of 12 Egyptians in the Libyan town of Bani Walid on Wednesday, 27 April, has once again brought the plight of Egyptian workers in Libya to the fore. Despite appalling security conditions and the absence of an effective central government, many Egyptians still travel to Libya for work.

The murders took place on the outskirts of Bani Walid, which is inhabited by the Warfala, the largest Libyan tribe. It is not the first time Egyptian workers have been the victims of violence in Libya. In 2015 a group of Egyptian Copts were abducted and executed in Sirte by the Islamic State (IS) group. In 2014, Egyptian workers were killed by Islamist extremists in Benghazi.

Attempts to contact the Warfala tribal council, the municipal council and police authorities in Bani Walid were unsuccessful. No one was willing to comment on the incident while investigations were in progress. On 28 April, however, the Bani Walid security department posted on its Facebook page that three young men from the town had been killed following a quarrel with a group of illegal migrants from Egypt and Syria.

It was immediately after this incident that the 12 Egyptian migrants were murdered and another seriously wounded. The security department reported the condition of the latter as stable but gave no further details about the incident.

The Warfala social council also issued a statement on Facebook expressing condolences to the families of the victims and pledging to do everything in its power to uncover the truth of what happened. The tribal council also condemned acts of violence and denounced human trafficking “which damages the reputation of the area and undermines security in our city”.

The council said it is willing to work with any legal or rights agency to clarify what happened and ensure justice for the victims. It added that Egyptians working in Bani Walid are part of the community and their safety and wellbeing is of paramount concern.

There can be “no tolerance of those who harm Egyptians in our area,” read the tribal council statement. It cautioned against attempts to obstruct the course of justice and warned of “media fabrications that seek to spread divisions between friends and brothers”.

Local sources in Bani Walid told Al-Ahram Weekly that the bodies of the 12 Egyptian victims were taken to the Tarhouna General Hospital. They added that official agencies, including the public prosecutor, are investigating the crime.

The sources confirmed that the victims were members of a larger group of Egyptians who had entered Libya illegally seeking work, and that an argument had erupted between the migrant workers and their Libyan traffickers over the sum to be paid for transporting them. The quarrel descended into violence, during which three of the human traffickers were killed.

Some of the migrant workers then fled eastward in the vehicles of the murdered men where they were intercepted by Bani Walid security forces. Members of the families of the dead smugglers pursued the fleeing migrants. When they reached the place where the workers had been intercepted they opened fire, killing 12 Egyptians. The sources added that there were also 11 Syrians and an Ethiopian among the group of workers.

In 2008 a similar vendetta occurred in Bani Walid. In that case a quarrel erupted between an Egyptian building worker and his Libyan employer during the course of which the Libyan was killed. The situation escalated when the family of the victim set fire to the homes of Egyptian workers in the town.

Despite the ban Egyptian authorities have imposed on travel to its eastern neighbour, many Egyptians continue to seek employment in Libya. Most travel to a third country, such as Sudan, Jordan, the UAE, Tunisia or Turkey, and then continue on to Libya.

There are no statistics on the numbers of Egyptian workers in Libya though it is widely believed they still form the largest foreign community.

Attempts by the Weekly to contact Mohamed Abu Bakr, Egypt’s ambassador to Libya, for comment, were unsuccessful.

April’s murders have underscored the need for Egypt to re-establish an official presence in western Libya. Cairo closed its embassy and consulate in Tripoli two years ago due to the breakdown in security in the Libyan capital.

Egyptian economic, social and political interests in Libya continued nonetheless and may now force Cairo to revisit its decision to close Egypt’s diplomatic and consular offices.

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