Video: Libya Smugglers Abusing Migrants
The shocking abuse refugees endure at the hands of people smugglers in Libya
Videos shown to the Telegraph reveal the violence of people smugglers herding migrants out of Libya and into Europe
By Nick Squires, Lampedusa | www.telegraph.co.uk | February 24, 2015
As the men knelt in the courtyard, stripped to their underwear, one of the people smugglers doused them with cold water while an armed guard looked on.
In another scene refugees, desperate to get to Europe, were beaten across the back with a long stick as they entered a building.
These scenes, recorded on the smart phones of other migrants, show the desperation of the thousands fleeing through Libya to Europe in recent days.
For the people smugglers, the exodus is increasingly lucrative. The casual violence recorded in the videos was intended to wring every last bit of money out of their human cargo, or out of their relatives.
A group of immigrants explain how they were tied up by Libyan captors before being sent to Lampedusa by boat (Chris Warde-Jones for the Telegraph)
The footage was taken by a 16-year-old Syrian who said he would have been killed had the smugglers discovered that he was filming their actions.
The victims are also thought to have been Syrian, escaping the war.
It is not known what became of them or whether they are still in Libya.
The violence appeared routine – in the foreground of the frame, another man appeared to be sweeping the yard with a broom.
The footage was given to the Telegraph by Tarek, a Syrian teenager who fled fighting in his home country.
The port of Lampedusa (Chris Warde-Jones for the Telegraph)
“If they had seen that I was filming, I would have been killed,” he said in an interview on Lampedusa, Italy’s southern-most island, which he reached last week in a boat full of other refugees.
Tarek was travelling alone, one of the hundreds of unaccompanied minors who have arrived on Lampedusa since the start of the year.
He said his family had paid $6,000 (£3,890) to have him taken by smuggling syndicates from Syria to Libya.
He said he flew to Khartoum in Sudan and from there was taken by truck across the Sahara and into Libya, on a journey that took two months.
“There were 30 people on the truck. I didn’t eat for four days because the food was dirty. I saw people die. They were pushed off the truck by the smugglers. A Somali man broke his leg when he was shoved off the truck,” he said.
He was imprisoned in a police station in southern Libya for 10 days. On his release, he made his way north to the coast and was held in an abandoned house before being packed into a boat with 200 other refugees and brought to Lampedusa.
Asked why he left Syria, he said: “I’m from a town where there has been much fighting,” and mimed the gesture of shooting an automatic weapon with his hands.
Like most of the refugees on the island, he has no intention of staying in Italy. Instead he wants to join an uncle in Berlin.
Refugees and asylum seekers are being subjected to much greater levels of violence in Libya, experts say.
Traffickers may fear that the increasing chaos in the country could shut down their lucrative business, so they are trying to squeeze as much money as possible from their human cargo.
Derelict boats used by immigrants to arrive in Lampedusa from North Africa lie abandoned on the side of the road (Chris Warde-Jones for the Telegraph)
“Refugees know they are going to risk their lives by trying to cross the Mediterranean, but they have no idea that the smugglers can be so violent. It comes as a big shock to them,” said Flavio Di Giacomo, a spokesman for the International Organisation for Migration.
Refugees are held in so-called “connection houses” for days or even weeks, until there are enough of them to make a crossing by boat profitable to the smugglers.
While sub-Saharan Africans are charged $400 to $700 for the sea journey, Syrians, who are often middle-class professionals with more money, have to pay up to $1,500.
They are then herded to departure points on beaches near Tripoli, Misurata and Zuwara.
“The Libyans take you, they say ‘we will shoot you in the head if you don’t give us all the money,’” said Mohamud Cabdale Cali, a 23-year-old Somali who spent four months in Libya waiting for a boat to take him to Lampedusa.
“Sometimes they gave us no food for three days. Then you get a single piece of bread. They kept us in a big house. There were 200 people –Somalis, Sudanese, Eritreans – but only one toilet. We slept on mats on the floor.”
He was one of 260 people crammed into a boat that was rescued in the Mediterranean by the Italian Coast Guard last week.
“It was very frightening. It was a small boat with far too many people on board. We are very grateful to the Italians. They gave us clothes, somewhere to sleep, and they said ‘this is your second home, you have to start a new life.’”
Omar Abdinasir Yasan, aged just 15, was imprisoned as an illegal immigrant for two months in Libya. “There were 60 of us in a very small room. There were no sleeping mats, we just slept on the concrete floor. It was very cold,” he said.
The Italians are desperate to stem the exodus of refugees to their shores – the country is still stuck in recession and its network of migrant reception centres is under enormous strain.
The grim business of people smuggling was largely kept in check underMuammar Gaddafi, but since the dictator was toppled and killed in 2011 with the help of Nato-led air strikes, the country has plunged into chaos.
“The situation in Libya is out of control,” said Roberta Pinotti, the defence minister.
“We need an accord, as we reached with Tunisia, where the patrolling of the coast works well. But as long as there are no clear parties to negotiate with in Libya, who do we deal with?”
Sitting on a bench on a street corner in Lampedusa’s main town, 15-year-old Merhawi Tesfatsion is one of hundreds of young children who made the perilous journey through the Sahara and then across the Mediterranean on their own.
The shy teenager, along with his friends Tumzgi Haile, and Frezghi Msgna, both 15, looked haunted by his experiences. “It was very bad in Libya. The Libyans hit us with wooden sticks. They are very hostile, very angry. After they beat us, they were laughing.”
From his home in Asmara he crossed the border to Ethiopia, but says he was arrested by police and thrown into a refugee camp for several weeks.
“They didn’t give us any food and there wasn’t any water to wash our bodies or our clothes.
“There was water just to drink, for tea.”
He managed to escape the camp and cross into Sudan. “We went through the desert by truck, but also by walking.” He hopes to make it to Germany – he has no family there, just friends.
All the refugees spoken to commended the Italians for the care and compassion they received on Lampedusa.
They are given hot meals, medical care and, for the under-18s, a “Welcome Kit” written in Italian, French, Arabic and English.
“This is not a prison. Do not escape, there is no reason to,” the brightly-coloured booklet advises them. “The people of this land, earth and sky are happy that you have arrived alive and well.”
Perhaps the most poignant advice is directed towards the lone children and young teens who have survived the dangerous crossing from Libya after being wrenched from their homes by war or poverty, or sent away by parents desperate that they should have a future.
“Ask to be protected from anyone who scares you,” the booklet says.
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