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The World

March 14, 2011

Migrant workers fleeing Libya vow not to return



En route to Tunisia, Libyan security forces took his remaining $1,200.

Gadhafi, in power since 1969, has in the past used foreign workers for his political objectives.

He has alternately championed pan-Arabism and pan-Africanism, opening and closing Libya to workers from those areas in line with Libya's orientation at the time. Different groups of workers could suddenly find themselves targeted for deportation, such as thousands of Sudanese expelled in the mid-1990s.

A turning point came in 2003 when Libya accepted responsibility for the 1988 bombing of a U.S. airliner that killed 270 people, mostly Americans, over Lockerbie, Scotland. Libya's change of heart led to a lifting of the sanctions, and in following years, the country moved toward normalizing its relations with the West.

Emerging from its isolation, Libya was eager to build its infrastructure and started bringing in more foreign workers since it didn't have the needed manpower, said Laurence Hart of the International Organization for Migration.

Hart said that before the fighting, his agency had been trying to work with the Libyan authorities to set up some rules and rights for the foreign workers. While the response was often slow, government officials showed some openness, he said. Some workers were treated well, and others were not, he added.

About half a million foreign workers are still in Libya, a country of 6.5 million, Hart estimated.

It's not clear if any will eventually return.

Adjei, the construction worker from Ghana, said he would try to build a life in his country, despite the economic difficulties. "I'm very tired of hustling in someone else's country. I just want to go home and have some peace," he said.

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