Amid Libya’s chaos, human traffickers have free rein

On February 21, the bodies of 74 migrants were found by the Libyan Red Crescent on the shore of Zawiya, a Libyan town known for being a capital of fuel smuggling and human trafficking.
A Zawiya resident said he was on the beach as Red Crescent volunteers filled dozens of body bags.
“The first thing I did on the shore was search for the rubber boat in which they left,” said the Zawiya resident, who preferred not to reveal his name for security reasons.
“It was not far from the corpses, destroyed, and the first thing I noticed was that the engine was not there. This probably means when the smugglers realised that the rubber boat was sinking, [they] came back … to carry off the engine. They will use it for other migrants.”
Libya’s militias have become increasingly powerful amid the power vacuum since Muammar Gaddafi’s toppling in 2011. The militias control the human trafficking trade, and many young Libyans lacking work are eager to join.
“We are realising that more and more young people are attracted by these crimes,” the man said. “The young people need money, and the smugglers provide them with this money. Nobody cares if migrants arrive in Europe alive or if they die drowned in the sea … they are worse than murderers.”
Migrants – who pay $1,500 per “seat” on the boats – are considered a kind of ATM by smugglers, who also control the detention centres where migrants are held.
The most powerful militia in the area is Abu Himyra al-Naser (translated as “Victory”). Another Zawiya resident, who spoke under condition of anonymity, said the militia’s boss “is paid directly by the government with the task of monitoring what’s going on in the harbour. He should work together with official navy officers, but actually he is the boss of the human trafficking here. He not only manages what happens in the port; he also directly controls several detention centres.”
Libya’s Interior Ministry has little control over these centres, where militias exploit, blackmail, abuse, and even sell migrants to other militias.
A source at the Libyan Interior Ministry confirmed this. “Corrupt coastguards gave migrants to the militias, and the militias keep them in illegal detention centres,” he said. “There, they start to blackmail migrants. They take their money, phones, documents. With the phone numbers they find in their mobiles, smugglers call their families asking for ransom to free them. The militias also sell them to masters in the area who use them to work for free. Fighting them is almost impossible, even for the official police.”

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