LIBYA’S POROUS SOUTHERN BORDERS AND THE ILLICIT TRADE IN WEAPONS, DRUGS AND PEOPLE (UPDATED 20th FEBRUARY MARCH 2017)
Abdul Wahab Hassain Qaid, a sometime senior member of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, is now commander of border security in the southern part of the country. He is the brother of Abou Yahya al-Libi, Bin Laden’s second in command, who was killed in Pakistan in early June by an American drone. Quaid is believed to have received 170 million dinars ($120 million) and a fleet of four-wheel drive vehicles from Qatar, presumably to carry out his duties. This is an interesting appointment in the light the relationship between Libya and the US following the killing of the US ambassador in Benghazi on 11th September this year. The border is of interest to the USA and the al Qaida franchises operating in the region.
Abdul Wahab Hassain Qaid is now responsible for Libya’s volatile south which borders Algeria, Niger, Chad and the Darfur region of Sudan. Smuggling routes from sub-Saharan Africa to the Mediterranean coast run through the Libyan oasis cities of Murzuq, its neighbouring city Sabha, and Kufra to the east.
A massive illicit trade in weapons, petrol and food goods moves south across porous desert borders in return for drugs, alcohol and people moving north. On 16th September the Libya Herald reported that Algerian police had intercepted a group of gun runners from Libya. They were attempting to smuggle 8 machine guns, 24 automatic rifles and 14,000 rounds of ammunition stolen from Libyan military arms dumps.
The cities are also staging posts for migrants who mainly come from Chad, Niger, Mali, Nigeria, Sudan, Ethiopia, Eritrea and Somalia. Some choose Libya as a final work destination but most hope to embark on the final journey north to the coast and across the Mediterranean to Europe.
A recent eyewitness report from Sabah gives us a glimpse of the modern trans-Saharan migrant route; “More than 1,300 illegal immigrants are detained here, some 100 kilometres outside the city of Sabha, along the road between the sand dunes to the south and the border with Niger. They have no shelter, not even makeshift tents, forced to sleep on the sandy, pebble-studded ground. Only the lucky few among them have a blanket to protect them from the gusts of scorching wind. The others curl up so they can shield their faces in their keffiyehs or T-shirts. It is early evening, and the temperature in this southern Libyan desert known for its scorpions and vipers is 35° Celsius (95° Fahrenheit)”. (Lucy Matieu in Le Temps dated 2012-07-06 22)
The most dangerous leg of the migrant’s journey is by boat across the Mediterranean from Libya. Malta is a preferred entry point to Europe for these latterday boat people. According to FRONTEX WATCH MALTA, known Illegal migrant landings in 2012 (up to 16th August) were 1621, of which 1162 were male, 412 female,25 were children, 8 were babies. There were 13 deaths. Malta covers just over 316 km2 in land area. It is one of the world’s smallest states and also one of the most densely populated. (1036.8/km2)
The Times of Malta dated 27th May 2012 carried this report; “A group of 52 migrants arrived at Xrobb l-Ghagin this afternoon, raising the number of arrivals today to 188. The latest arrivals include thee women. They arrived on a dinghy which managed to reach the shore. This morning, a group of 136 illegal immigrants was brought to Malta on a patrol boat. The 86 men, 43 women and 7 children were picked up from a drifting dinghy some 72 miles south of Malta after their boat was deemed to be in distress. Among the migrants was a new-born, while another baby was born as a patrol boat was bringing the migrants to Malta.”
It is worth making one final point. A recent report by Al Jazeera contained this disturbing remark; “The European Union and United States should be concerned, warned Ibrahim Ali Abu Sharia, a Sabha University professor. There is a massive illegal trade – including slaves. I saw a Sabha farmer sell 20 Somali women recently. You can buy one African man for 500 Libyan Dinar [$394].” (Rebecca Murray Al Jazeera 22nd July 2102).
We learn little from history. The British explorer G.F. Lyon made these observations about trans-Saharan salve trafficking whilst in Muzurq in the early 19th Century. “Many of the [slave] children were carried [on camels] in leather bags, which the Tibboo [Tebu] make use of to keep their corn in; and in one instance I saw a nest of children on one side of a camel, and its young one in a bag, hanging on the other………. Five Wajunga men, fierce, well made, handsome people, about 25 years of age, were linked together. The right hand is fastened to the neck, round which is an iron collar, having two rings in the back; through this the heavy chain is passed and locked at each end on the unhappy slaves. The owner sleeps with this chain tied to his wrist, when in fear of their escaping. I was informed by their masters, that these men had been so confined during three months.”
Updated 7th October 2012
On Saturday 6th October a meeting in Malta of the ‘5+5 Group’ which comprises Libya, Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, Mauretania, Portugal, Spain, France, Italy and Malta concluded with an agreement to set up a humanitarian task-force to combat illegal immigration across the Mediterranean from sub-Saharan Africa and the Maghreb states to Europe. (Libya Herald and Times of Malta)
Update 11th October 2012
The following is part of a new report issued by the ‘International Federation for Human Rights, Migreurop’ and ‘Justice without borders for migrants (JWBM)’, based on an investigation in Libya in June 2012, during which the delegation interviewed hundreds of migrants held in 8 detention centres in Tripoli, Benghazi and the Nafusa Mountain region.
……………Yet in today’s Libya, migrants, asylum seekers and refugees find themselves hounded by groups of former rebels (Qatibas), acting outside any legal framework in a context of deep-rooted racism, who have assigned themselves the task of “ridding the country of migrants who bring crime and disease”. Migrants are arrested at checkpoints and in their homes and taken to improvised detention centres, run by Katibas, where they are held for indefinite periods in airless and insalubrious cells, suffering physical and psychological abuse at the hands of the guards. They have no idea whether and when they may regain their freedom………..
……….as the situation in Libya stabilises, the country will once again rely on migrant workers to rebuild and develop its economy. Foreign companies, many of them European, will resume their investments in Libya and the country will become a hub of intra-African migration. The EU must contribute to this mobility with ambition and responsibility, including by developing a more flexible visa policy and by not forcing Libya to readmit non-nationals…………
Read the full letter in Libya Herald http://www.libyaherald.com/?p=15892
Update 25th October 2012
More migrants rescued…………read http://www.libyaherald.com/2012/10/24/16807/
and more arms smuggled……readhttp://www.libyaherald.com/2012/10/24/smuggled-libyan-arms-seized-in-mersa-matruh/
Update 5th November 2012.
More migrants rescued – some dead:
Update 18th December 2012
The Libyan Herald carried this report datelined 17th December 2012. The appointment of a military governor and the declaration of a military zone in the south is a hopeful sign.
“Tripoli, 17 December: The General National Congress (GNC) declared the south a closed military zone on Sunday evening and announced that it would temporarily close the borders with Niger, Chad, Sudan and Algeria, state news agency LANA reported.
GNC members passed the exceptional legislation with a majority of 136, designating the areas around Ghadamis, Ghat, Awbari, Al-Shati, Sebha, Murzuq and Kufra as closed zones of military operations.
Members also voted to close Libya’s southern borders, but said that they would reopen them at an undesignated time in coordination with their neighbouring states.
According to the legislation, the Ministry of Defence must appoint a military governor for the south, who will be given full powers to arrest those currently wanted for crimes in the area.”
Also read this:
Update 28th December 2912
This is an excellent survey in the Libya Herald:
Updated 3rd February 2013
The illegal immigrant centre in Benghazi attacked. Some details of the treatment of inmates who test HIV positive;
Update 24th June 2013
There has been some talk of floods of migrants moving across Libya’s Sothern borders attempting to reach the Mediterranean coast and eventually Europe. The Libyan PM and a group of ministers have returned from Kufra in the south east and Ghat in the south west. They argue that there is a trickle of migrants – tens not thousands -and they have put measures in place to stem the flow.
However, it seems that some migrants are getting through and that there are still people traffickers operating in Kufra:
Update 9th July 2013
It seems that there are still desperate people making the hazardous crossing from Libya to Malta and Italy. Some who die on route are thrown overboard!
Update 13th July 2013
The statement made by the Libyan Prime Minister that there were but 10s not 1,000s of migrants crossing into Libya seems to be refuted by this report about Malta’s attempt to fly boat people back to Libya.
Update 8th August 2013
More illegal migrants are drowned as the tragedy of people trafficking across the Mediterranean from Libya continues:
Update 27th August 2013
This report that foreign troops have crossed Libya’s southern border somewhere may prove interesting;
Update 30 November 2013
This report and video from Al Jazeera brings the story up to date dramatically:
Updated 2nd February 2014
Update 21st March 2014
The dreadful sea journey from Libya to Malta and Italy is still taking its toll;
Update 20th February 2017
It is clear from this piece in Britain’s Guardian newspaper that people trafficking is brutal and cruel.