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{UAH} Viral Video shows Somali and Ethiopian Migrants and Refugees being held and abused by Libyan gangs

Viral Video shows Somali and Ethiopian Migrants and Refugees being held and abused by Libyan gangs

By  on June 19, 2017 — African migrants and refugees travelling to Libya are being frequently abducted, tortured, sexually exploited and made to engage in forced labour. The people smugglers and criminal gangs are using social media to broadcast the abuse and violence they inflict on African migrants in their captivity and to demand ransoms (ranging from US$ 8,000-10,000) from their families back home, the UN says.

File picture: Migrants from African origin rest in a room at the Interior ministry's al-Nasr housing center for illegal immigrants on August 31, 2016 in the port city of Zawiyah, located some 45 kilometres west of the capital Tripoli. Thousands of migrants are "racing against the clock" to make the perilous crossing from Libya to Europe before summer ends, with authorities in the conflict-torn country at a loss to stem the flow. Photo: AFP/MAHMUD TURKIA

Migrants and refugees travelling to Libya are being frequently abducted in the Raybana area on the country's southern border after crossing from Sudan. The area is said to be extremely insecure with smuggling gangs from across the region preying on vulnerable people.

In a video posted on Facebook, hundreds of emaciated Somalis and Ethiopians, including several children, were seen huddled in a concrete room in an unknown location in Libya. Other nationalities may also be present. The people smugglers and criminal gangs are using social media to broadcast the abuse and violence they inflict on African migrants in their captivity and to demand ransoms from their families back home, according to the United Nations (UN).

Victim Testimonies

Speaking on video to a Somali journalist based in Turkey (who recorded the call he received from the criminal gang), the migrants and refugees, who are sitting on the floor in a crowded space, say they have been beaten and tortured. Some report that their teeth have been removed, their arms broken and that none of them have been given any food. They explain that women have been put in different cells, where they are afraid that they are being further abused both sexually and physically. Parents and other relatives of the captive migrants and refugees are also receiving short video clips via social media, where they are being asked to pay between USD 8,000-10,000 or their child or relative will be killed. Some of the individuals in the videos have been missing for up to six years according to their families in Somalia. The exact location where they are being held is not yet known.

"I have being here one year. I am beaten every day. I swear I do not eat food. My body is bruised from beating," said one of the captives in the video. "If you have seen the life here you wouldn't stay this world any more. I didn't eat the last four days but the biggest problem is beating here. They don't want to release me."

File picture: A man who was brought across the border injured is carried to a medical tent after entering Tunisia from Libya on March 03, 2011 in Ras Jdir, Tunisia. Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)Flickr/BRQ Network

Throughout the video there are exchanges between the journalist and the person moderating on site in Libya. In one instance, he introduces the journalist to a young visibly starving man with a large concrete block weighing down on his back, as punishment for his family not paying his ransom.

"I was asked for 8000 US Dollars," said the young man, when asked by journalist why the criminal gang was punishing him. "They broke my teeth. They broke my hand. I have being here 11 months… This stone has been put on me for the last three days. It's really painful."

Read: African migrants are being sold in Libya's 'slave markets' IOM says

"I was here one year," said one captive on the video from Ethiopia pleading with the journalist for help. "We want help. My brother, my brother, we are dead! We are beaten 24 hours a day, brother I am begging you! Brother I beg you, do whatever you can do. I can't sleep; my chest hurts so much because they beat me with big pieces of steel every hour. They put us out in the sun. They do not give us food for days. Brother, we want you can take us back to our country!"

The UN International Organization for Migration (IOM) and United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)

United Nations migration officials in April this year reported that migrants on the North African route hoping to cross the Mediterranean Sea are trafficked in what are essentially slave markets in lawless Libya for forced labor and sexual exploitation. They reported that least 20,000 migrants are being detained in Libya, the main gateway for those attempting to reach Europe by sea and put in dire situations of slavery, starvation, sexual abuse and murder

Many are also held and extorted for money by smugglers and gangs, and rising numbers are traded.

File picture. Migrants of sub-Saharan origin wait after disembarking from Italian Navy ship 'Comandante Bettica' in the harbour of Catania, Italy, 20 September 2015. About 120 migrants were rescued at sea. Italy is struggling to cope with a huge increase in the already big flow of migrants to attempt the hazardous crossing from North Africa. Photo: ANP/ EPA/Giuseppe Lami

"Migrants who go to Libya while trying to get to Europe, have no idea of the torture archipelago that awaits them just over the border," said Leonard Doyle, chief IOM spokesman in Geneva. "There they become commodities to be bought, sold and discarded when they have no more value."

"The IOM condemns the way that criminal gangs use social media in their shocking abuse of people held against their will and to extort money from their families back home," said Mohammed Abdiker, IOM director of operations and emergencies.

Read: The thin line between labour exploitation and human trafficking

"This is a global problem where a smuggler or a criminal gang can easily use digital platforms to advertise their services, entice vulnerable people on the move and then exploit them and their families. It is high time that social media and tech companies recognize the extreme harm that is occurring because of their failure to monitor and react to situations of grave human rights abuses – leading ultimately to murder – that are being shared through their channels." Abdiker said in a statement.

Migrants often risk their lives in overcrowded and unsafe vessels. Photo: The Guardian

"The cruelty of the human traffickers preying on vulnerable refugees and migrants in Libya does not seem to have a limit," said Amin Awad, UNHCR Director for the Middle East and North Africa. "UNHCR is concerned about the plight of these asylum seekers and calls for their immediate release in collaboration with the Libyan authorities. We abhor the graphic images circulated widely and the heinous abuses perpetrated by these groups."

The relevant authorities are aware of this inhumane situation and are working to locate and assist the individuals in the video. IOM and partners have stated they will work with the government authorities to urgently secure the release of these migrants and refugees and provide critical support, including medical and psychosocial, as well as transport if they want to return home.

Situation in Libya

Huge numbers of migrants are already in Libya, and they face constant threats, humanitarian groups point out.

Last year, Doctors without Borders highlighted the "alarming levels of violence" against migrants and refugees in Libya, including sexual attacks and killings, not only from smugglers, but also from myriad armed groups and individuals.

Migrants have reported being detained by militiamen for months in dire conditions. Others were kept in a form of slavery by private individuals who forced them into labor, often in exchange for scarce food.

"As Libya is not a party to the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, and is itself emerging from a humanitarian crisis, E.U. countries cannot assume that these rights are granted," Doctors without Borders said last year, referring to the UN treaty that outlines the rights of the displaced. "E.U. countries, therefore, should not deny people the chance of reaching Europe."

Anything that stems the flow of migrants in Libya also runs the danger of running up against the interests of the powerful armed groups that control the trade. In a country racked by conflict, migrant smuggling has become a lucrative business for a bewildering array of criminal gangs and associated militias. European leaders concede that Libya's instability and widespread violence are causes of concern.

The 'Aware Migrants' campaign

The 'Aware Migrants' campaign was launched last year by the Italian government and the International Organization for Migration (IOM), to inform would-be migrants in Africa about the dangers of heading to Europe via the Mediterranean Sea. It aims to reach people in 15 African countries through social media, radio and television adverts featuring video testimonies of migrants who made it to Europe, but were abused, beaten and raped along the way

The voyage from Libya across the Mediterranean to Italy – most cross the sea on flimsy boats run by people smugglers – has become the main route to Europe for migrants from Africa after a European Union clampdown last year on sea crossings from Turkey.

A record 181,000 migrants made the perilous journey last year, and arrivals in Italy this year so far have risen by two thirds compared with the same period in 2016, IOM data shows.

The campaign is now targeting potential migrants across West and Central Africa – which account for most arrivals in Italy – with posts on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Instagram, and adverts with local media, said IOM spokesman Flavio Di Giacomo.

"The purpose of the campaign is not to tell migrants not to leave – that is a personal choice," he said. "But we need to provide them with as much information as possible, and quickly."

"Many migrants who arrive in Italy are not fully aware of the risks … their journeys were more dangerous and traumatic than they expected," Di Giacomo told an online press conference.

More than 4,500 migrants drowned in the Mediterranean in 2016, and nearly 500 have died at sea this year, almost a five-fold increase from this time last year, according to the IOM.

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