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The World

March 14, 2011

Migrant workers fleeing Libya vow not to return



Tarun Alam, 22, said his family had sold most of its land in Bangladesh so it could send him to work in Libya. He was promised a salary of $600 a month, or three times what he would make at home. Instead, he was not paid at all on the first job. He quit after three months, found work as a cook and waiter and made between $300 and $400.

Earlier this week, he and several Bangladeshi co-workers left the Libyan capital of Tripoli because their company had shut down due to the fighting, leaving them to fend for themselves. On the way to the border, their bus was stopped by security forces who seized cash and phone cards. Alam said he lost his last $100 and his phone.

Workers from sub-Saharan Africa, perhaps worst off in Libya because many had entered illegally, started arriving in growing numbers at the camp in recent days. Migration officials said it's impossible to say how many more are on the way, since some might be afraid to make the trip or can't afford it.

Adjei, the construction worker, said he entered Libya eight years ago through the Sahara Desert, paying smugglers hundreds of dollars. Without proper papers, he said he had no recourse when cheated by his employers.

The Ghanaian said that three years ago, assailants set fire to a small Tripoli apartment he shared with four co-workers and made off with the group's shared earnings of $14,000. Adjei said he didn't leave Libya then because he felt he couldn't go home empty-handed; his income helps support his parents and two high school-age siblings.

In December, he was picked up by police for not having a visa and was taken to prison, sleeping on the ground without a mattress and enduring beatings by the guards. He was released 10 weeks later, after friends managed to collect enough money for bribes. When he came out, the fighting had already started.

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