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Foreign Workers Trek Across Sahel To Libya, Again


Over a half million foreign workers fled the violence in Libya last spring during the fall of Tripoli. Most migrants were from Egypt, Tunisia or sub-Saharan Africa. Thousands came from a single town in the West African nation of Ghana. That town is called Nkoranza and it's nearly 3,000 miles away from Libya's capital of Tripoli.

But reporter Marine Olivesi says that despite the risks and uncertainty they face in post liberation Libya, many Ghanaians are once again taking the road north.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Here is the station. Here is airport.


MARINE OLIVESI, BYLINE: Kassim Zakari spent three years in Tripoli working as a mason. The 28-year-old used the $5,000 he saved there to start building his cell phone shop in Nkoranza. Now, he says he needs more money to put a roof on top of his store and actual cell phones inside. So Zakari has decided to migrate to Libya again.

Over the past three decades, tens of thousands of migrant workers from Nkoranza have made the same journey north. Here's the town's mayor, Onabu Adjokum.

MAYOR ONABU ADJOKUM: Every single family in Nkoranza has got a relative who has been to Libya. Personally, I have more than five brothers who have travelled to Libya. I have cousins, nephews who have travelled to Libya and this is a close family.

OLIVESI: The trend started in the early 1980s after a few English teachers from Nkoranza made their ways to Libya. Word travelled fast of a land of riches. To get to Libya from Ghana means a two-week journey at best across as many as five countries. But ambitious youths saw Libya as a promised land and a possible springboard to Europe.

However, violence during Libya's uprising sent many fleeing for their lives. Local officials say over 8,000 migrants returned to Nkoranza and nearby villages. Today, most are unemployed and Libya is again looking attractive.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: (Foreign language spoken)

OLIVESI: He's Issac Frimpong, headed north again this January and found work as a mason in the coastal town of Zawiya. He says Libya's construction industry is in dire need of manual labor, especially in towns battered by fierce fighting during last year's uprising.

ISAAC FRIMPONG: (Through Translator) If someone sees you, that you are doing this man's house, he will call you, call you, please finish it early and come and do my work for me.

OLIVESI: But being an undocumented worker in Libya has its risks. Militia men arrested Frimpong in early March. He says he was stripped of his belongings, then transferred to detention center in the town of Gharyan.

FRIMPONG: (Foreign language spoken)

OLIVESI: Frimpong says he say hundreds of sub-Saharan Africans in the makeshift jail. There, he says, he witnessed guards beating to death three fellow Ghanaians after they tried to escape.

FRIMPONG: (Through Translator) They took a rope and hanged them, their head down, beating them with their guns. Those boys were shouting for about two hours, then they stopped shouting. They were dead.

OLIVESI: Frimpong was deported shortly after the incident. Activists in Nkoranza are using such cautionary tales to stop more from trickling back to Libya. Donyina Koranteg is the leader of an organization for Libyan returnees. He says they should try to make home a better place instead.

DONYINA KORANTEG: We stay here and wait and organize ourselves to help ourselves.

OLIVESI: Some, though, won't share his optimism. On a damp recent night, Eric John towards Nkoranza's bus station, the backpack on his shoulder.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: (Foreign language spoken)

OLIVESI: The father of two says he has no choice but to go to Libya again to support his family.


OLIVESI: Three friends offer last minute advice and tell John they hope to see him soon again in Libya. For NPR News, I'm Marine Olivesi. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Marine Olivesi