North Africa Theater

Migrant protest camp broken up in Libya

More than 600 asylum-seekers and migrants were detained on Jan. 10 when Libyan security forces cleared a protest encampment in front of an aid center run by the United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR, in the capital city of Tripoli. The protesters—who were asking for protection, and evacuation from Libya—had been camped out since last October, when Libyan security forces violently rounded up more than 5,000 asylum-seekers and migrants, forcing them into notoriously grim detention centers. Before the raid on the protest camp, UNHCR permanently closed the center in Tripoli, leaving thousands without humanitarian assistance. The Norwegian Refugee Council said the most recent arrests were the "culmination of a disastrous situation," and Médecins Sans Frontières called on the EU to "stop supporting...an unending system of detention, abuse, and violence in Libya." The EU backs the Libyan Coast Guard, which intercepted more than 32,000 asylum-seekers and migrants at sea last year, returning them to detention centers. 

Tunisia: political crisis deepens

Tunisia's former president Moncef Marzouki was sentenced in absentia to four years in prison by the Tunis Court of First Instance on Dec. 21. Marzouki was convicted of "undermining the external security of the State," according to Tunisia's national press agency. Marzouki served as Tunisia's president from 2011 through 2014. Most recently, Marzouki has received attention for his criticism of Tunisia's current President Kaïs Saied.

Libya: unrest as elections postponed

Several Libyan parliamentary candidates are calling for nationwide protests over the cancellation of the country's long-awaited presidential election, which had been tentatively scheduled for Dec. 24. The electoral commission has proposed putting off the polls for a month, citing lack of preparedness amid bureaucratic chaos. But the postponement threatens the country's fragile peace deal. Clashes broke out last week in the southern city of Sabha between local security forces and fighters loyal to eastern warlord Khalifa Haftar, who has announced his candidacy for president. Another presidential hopeful is Saif al-Islam Qaddafi—who is wanted by the International Criminal Court for alleged war crimes committed during the revolution that overthrew his father 10 years ago. Also running is current interim prime minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibah. All three have faced challenges to their right to run, and Human Rights Watch has expressed concern over whether the elections can be free and fair given the atmosphere of insecurity and repression. (AP, TNH)

Tunisia: uprising over waste disposal crisis

Anger over a regional garbage crisis in Tunisia exploded into street clashes Nov. 9 after a man died following exposure to tear-gas during protests against the reopening of a landfill site. Abderrazek Lacheheb, 35, died in the town of Aguereb in the coastal region of Sfax, punctuating weeks of demonstrations over a growing waste and public health crisis. The powerful UGTT trade union confederation announced a general strike for the day after his passing in Aguereb, condemning the "savage intervention by security forces."

Crimes against humanity in Libya?

At least six people were killed and dozens more wounded by guards who opened fire at asylum seekers and migrants attempting to escape en masse from an overcrowded detention center in Tripoli on Oct. 8. This came after the Libyan authorities rounded up and detained at least 5,000 asylum seekers and migrants in the capital, starting on Oct. 1. Earlier this month, the UN Human Rights Council said it believes "crimes against humanity" have been committed in Libya's detention centers. So far this year, more than 26,000 migrants and asylum seekers have been intercepted by the EU-backed Libyan Coast Guard and returned to the centers, where they face a well-documented cycle of abuse. Despite the human rights concerns, the EU's executive body, the European Commission, is reportedly aiming to deliver new patrol boats to the Libyan Coast Guard.

Algeria: protest dissolution of civil society group

Five international rights groups are urging Algerian authorities to drop their effort to dissolve a prominent civil society group over alleged violation of the "law on associations." The five groups—Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, the Cairo Institute of Human Rights Studies, the International Federation of Human Rights, and the MENA Rights Group—say the government's move "threatens freedom of association." On Sept. 29, a court in Algiers heard a petition to dissolve the Rassemblement Action Jeunesse (Youth Action Rally, or RAJ). The petition claimed that the group's political activities violated the purposes set forth in its own bylaws. Leaders of RAJ denied the charge and said that authorities targeted the association due to its support of the Hirak pro-democracy  movement.

Migrants 'disappearing' in Libya

Of more than 24,000 asylum seekers and migrants intercepted at sea this year by the EU-supported Libyan Coast Guard, only 6,000 are accounted for in Libya's official detention centers, a spokesperson for the International Organization for Migration (IOM) told the Associated Press last week. The fate of thousands of others returned to the country remains unknown, and it is suspected that many are being sold to human traffickers.

Algiers plays politics as Kabylia burns

At least 90 people have been killed in wildfires that have swept through northern Algeria over the past weeks. The blazes have consumed some 100,000 acres, mostly in the northeastern Kabylia region and its central province of Tizi Ouzou. While remaining silent on the role of climate change, the Algerian government seems to be exploiting the disaster for political purposes. President Abdelmadjid Tebboune on Aug. 18 said most of the fires were "criminal" in origin, and blamed them on regional rival Morocco. The two countries were already in a diplomatic tiff before the new accusations. "The incessant hostile acts carried out by Morocco against Algeria have necessitated the review of relations between the two countries," the presidency said in a statement, adding that there will be an "intensification of security controls on the western borders." Algeria's western border with Morocco has already been sealed and heavily militarized since 1994.

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