Historic discrimination threatens right to health of minorities in Libya amid COVID-19


Libyan national and local authorities must ensure that marginalized groups are factored into their emergency public health response to the spread of COVID-19, Amnesty International urged.

Historic discrimination against the country’s ethnic minority groups like the Tabu and Tuareg has already created barriers to their access to healthcare even before the coronavirus pandemic.

“Fears of the spread of COVID-19 in southern Libya expose the vulnerable circumstances of minority communities who have long struggled to enjoy equal access to health care,” said Diana Eltahawy, MENA Deputy Regional Director.

Libya’s public health system has been undermined by years of armed conflict and insecurity including attacks on medical facilities, the exodus of qualified medical personnel and frequent militia interference in the provision of medical services.

“Owing to years of armed conflict, insecurity and neglect, the Libyan south as a whole is woefully unprepared for the pandemic, as it lacks adequate testing facilities, protective equipment and qualified health workers.” Eltahawy continued.

“The situation of minorities is of particular concern, as they face additional hurdles in accessing the two largest and best equipped hospitals in the area.”

Many cities and towns in the south of Libya have been historically segregated on the basis of tribal affiliation and ethnicity.

The sporadic flaring of hostilities between different tribal militia groups hinders the movement of people in this area, affecting people’s access to health care when hospitals are in areas controlled by rival groups.

In Sabha, the largest city in southwestern Libya, Tabu residents told Amnesty International they avoid the main hospital, which is in a part of the city controlled predominantly by the rival Arab Awlad Sliman tribe for fear of being attacked.

In the city of Kufra, Tabu residents told Amnesty International that they refrained from going to the main medical facilities located in areas controlled by the Zwai tribe as they fear violence and instead have to rely on a smaller clinic in the Tabu-controlled area of the city.

Some members of the Tabu and Touareg communities face additional barriers in accessing health care as they do not possess identity documents or family identity booklets to prove Libyan citizenship, necessary to access the free public health system.

Members of both communities are also potentially more vulnerable to adverse impacts in case there is an outbreak of COVID-19, as they live in impoverished and densely populated neighbourhoods such as Taouiri in Sabha, making social distancing impossible.

Amnesty International calls upon the international community and donors providing assistance for Libyan public health services to take into account the specific obstacles faced by the Tabu and Tuareg communities

“We call on the Libyan authorities and militias in effective control to ensure that all people have equal access to health care regardless of race, nationality or ethnic origin,” Eltahawy said. (Source: Amnesty Intl.)