Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi had for many years allowed guest workers to travel from all over Africa to find work in Libya. However, during the 2011 Libyan civil war, rumors began to surface that sub-Saharan mercenaries paid for by Gadhafi were being used to attack demonstrators in Libya’s towns and cities.
Although several NGOs found no evidence of such mercenaries, the rumors were followed by gruesome attacks on the country’s many Black African migrant workers. But animosity toward Black immigrants did not begin with the civil war.
Amnesty International researcher Diana Eltahawy said the rebels taking control of Libya tapped into “existing xenophobia.”
In his 2011 Thinkafricapress.com article, Beyond Mercenaries: Racism In North Africa, Tom Little writes:
“In spite of evidence showing widespread violence against migrant workers trying to escape the turmoil, the foreign press suggested that these attacks were regrettable but to be expected given the atrocities committed by [Gadhafi’s] mercenaries. Few, however, picked up on the fact that these attacks are symptomatic of a racial prejudice that is deeply rooted and widely spread throughout North Africa and the wider Arab world.”