Berenice Stories

Short Stories by John Oakes

Archive for the ‘Trans-Saharan slave trade routes’ Category

LIBYA – THE TEBU, THE ZAWIYA AND THE BATTLE FOR KUFRA – OLD ENEMIES IN NEW CONTEXTS.

leave a comment »

In Libya the Tebu people of Kufra have long been marginalised. For many years, Gaddafi’s people pursued a program of ‘arabiseation’ which effectively meant the persecution of the Tebu as this report by the Human Rights Council makes clear: “Some 4,000 Toubou [Tebu] people are living in the town of Kufra, an oasis city of 44,000 inhabitants some 2,000 kilometres from Tripoli. In the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya [Gaddafi’s Libya], they were treated as foreigners by the authorities. In December 2007, the Libyan Government withdrew citizenship from members of the Toubou group, stating that they were not Libyans but Chadians. Furthermore the local authorities issued decrees barring Toubou from access to education and health care services. The armed movement “Front for the Salvation of the Toubou Libyans” …. opposed these measures. Up to 33 people died in Kufra, during five days of fighting between the official security forces and the Toubou in November 2008. Despite public criticism, the government of the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya [continued] to expel Toubou people from their residential areas in Kufra. Since November 2009 dozens of families lost their homes due to forced destruction by bulldozers supervised by state security forces.”
The hostility between the black Tebu people and the white al Zawiya tribe has long been endemic in Kufra and has escalated into open warfare since the heavy hand of the Gaddafi regime was lifted after the 2011 civil war. Here are some notes which may help to understand the long running enmity between the ethnic Tebu people and the Zawiya tribe in Kufra. (A note here about transliteration and the Zawiya tribe. The tribal name may appear in a number of spellings. Rosita Forbes, who is quoted below, used Souais. Nowadays Libyans often use the name Sway as the Zawiya are known thus locally. Also the Tebu are often honoured with a number of spelling variations, such as Toubu and other near approximations)
The Tebu people of Kufra, Sebha and Muzuq are part of a wider ethnic group called the Teda, desert warriors living in the eastern and central Sahara and, effectively, a black people without nationality. The majority of them can be found in the Tibesti Mountains on the Libyan-Chad border. Their harsh environment, extreme poverty, and remote location make them a very tough people. They have often clashed with the neighbouring tribes and with the Tuareg and, like the gypsies in Great Britain, are despised by the dominant communities who see them as petty thieves and liars.
Traditionally, the Teda controlled the caravan trade routes that passed through their territory. They were widely known in the past for plundering and salve trading. Their language is Tebu and their basic social unit is the nuclear family, organized into clans. They live by a combination of pastoralism, farming, subsistence smuggling and date cultivation.
The Zawiya is a ‘client tribe’ which owes allegiance to the aristocratic Magharba tribe with which it shares a border in the north. This client relationship goes back into antiquity and the Zawiya ignore it at best and resent it at worst. Desert traders and nomadic pastoralists the Zawiya conquered Kufra in 1840 subduing the indigenous Tebu, the non-Arab pan- Saharan ethic group which, at some time in the distant past, maintained a notable presence there. The remnants of their dwellings and forts are still visible. Some suggest that Kufra was the ancient centre of the whole Teda people and even in the late 18th and early 19th centuries they had been in contact with the oases of Egypt and Cyrenaica. The literature is full of stories of their ability to travel between widely dispersed water sources on their special breed of camel and of their lawlessness and sometimes harsh treatment of slaves.
Since 1840 or thereabouts the Zawiya tribe has owned most of the date palm groves of the Kufra oases, employing the Tebu as labourers and extending its trading route into the last African Sultanate to fall to western imperialism, the Wadai, now part of Chad. It is said that Kufra under Zawiya rule was the most noted centre of brigandage in the Sahara. Plus ça change – plus c’est la même chose.
The Zawiya leadership promised the Grand Senussi, Mohamed Ben Ali as-Senussi, a liberal donation of dates and water if he would establish a religious community in Kufra. This he did and the Senussi order eventually moved its headquarters to Kufra from whence it exercised its moral and temporal suasion and commercial competence over the hitherto predatory Zawiya, establishing a profitable trans-Saharan trade in slaves and arms.
Unlike other trans-Saharan routes the Senussi control over the Wadai to Benghazi road via Kufra reduced the costs to slave merchants who were not, therefore, obliged to pay tolls even though their caravans passed through a number of tribal territories. However, the Senussi theocracy and the slave trade through Kufra were under threat from the French who were advancing their empire towards Chad and from the Italians who had commenced to colonise north eastern shore of Libya. Thus the slavers were losing access to the Mediterranean ports in the north and the supply of slaves from the south.
It was in 1910 that the Italians launched their colonial occupation of Libya and gradually extended their dominance over the country. In the east they met resistance from the Libyan tribes on whose most profitable land they had established Italian agricultural settlements and whose migratory life they restricted and disrupted. The logistical problems posed by the huge distance and lack of fodder and water between the Italian bases on the Mediterranean coast meant that the Senussi theocracy based in Kufra was for many years beyond their reach. What is more the Italians became embroiled in World War I and had little time or resources with which to mount an attack on Kufra, protected as it was by distance and an arc of impassable sand seas. In 1920 they adopted the pragmatic policy of appointing the future King of Libya, Mohamed Idris es Senussi, Emir of Cyrenaica with his capital at Kufra. .
In the early years of the 20th Century there were a number of blank areas on the maps of the Libyan Desert. For some time stories circulating about three lost or ‘forbidden’ oases, Kufra, Jebel ‘Uwainat and Zazura, had been circulating amongst geographers. Even the Royal Geographical Society published a paper about Zazura, which turned out to be a mythical place.
In 1921/22 a remarkable expedition to the hitherto closed oasis of Kufra was made by two colourful travellers. One was the Oxford educated Egyptian civil servant and explorer Hassanien Bey and the other an intrepid adventuress, travel writer and novelist, Rosita Forbes. By virtue of Hassanien Bey’s considerable influence with the Emir, Idris es Senussi, they acquired permission to visit the Senussi lodge and mausoleum in Kufra and overcame opposition amongst the Zawiya tribesman to visit the villages in the vicinity. Rosita Forbes managed to conceal a camera about her person with which she managed to take some unique photographs. (In doing this the she was risking her life. Even in 1960s I would not have dared to use my camera freely in much of Libya). The pair found evidence of a continuing, though by now clandestine, slave trade. The odd couple’s considerable journey by camel to the forbidden oasis is described in Forbes’ book ‘The Secret of the Sahara, Kufra’. At one point in their return journey they were under the impression that a band of Tebu was stalking them with malign intent. This may have been why Forbes described the Tebu as ‘the Berber aborigines of Libya. They wear only sheep skins and eat a mixture of powdered dates and locusts’. Some of her photographs appeared in ‘The Illustrated London News’ dated 21st May 1921. One of the photographs is of ruined stone dwellings which, she asserted, were built at some time in antiquity by the Tebu. Forbes estimated that ‘the population of Kufara and Buseima is about 3,000 Zouais (Zawiya) and 100 to 150 Tebu. In addition to these there are a large number of Negroid slaves from Wadai and Darfur’.
On 28th December 1930 the Italian colonial power in Libya was sufficiently strengthened and equipped to launch an attack on the Emir’s Sothern oasis stronghold of Kufra. For the first time the Italians used self contained motorised columns supported by aircraft which traversed the Libyan Desert to project overwhelming power across huge waterless distances and over hitherto impregnable sand seas. The Italian mechanised attack, supported by aerial bombardment and strafing, was quick to reduce Zawiya resistance in Kufra and forced the Senussi family to flee to Siwa in Egypt.
Those inhabitants who made a living on the land watered by Kufra’s springs remained behind but the proud Arabs of the Zawiya tribe decided to escape. They had no time to make long preparations or to feed their camels up for a journey over waterless and fodder-less terrain to the South East. Even so, a party estimated to have been five hundred strong including women and children set out in that direction for the Jebel ‘Uwainat, known as ‘the mountain of springs’, on the border of Libya with Egypt and the Sudan.
For some time there had been no rain at ‘Uwainat and whilst there was still water in the main spring, Ain Dua, the vegetation had withered away and the ill prepared camels could find no sustenance. Some groups elected to move on but many succumbed to starvation and perished. Around four hundred Zawiya eventually reached the Dakhla oasis in Egypt having covered more than 400 miles between water sources over arid desert, a feat with few parallels in non mechanised desert travel.
With time the Zawiya returned to Kufra and their numbers grew substantially as did those of the Tebu. During the early years of World War II Kufra became the base of the British Long Range Desert Group which perfected the use of mechanised transport in the Libyan Desert and the wider Sahara.
After the Italian defeat by the British 8th Army, Libya was administered by British and French Military governments until 1952 when it received its independence and the sometime Emir of Cyrenaica, Idris es Senussi, became its king. Oil was found to be abundant below the desert homeland of the Zawiya. The need for imported labour grew and workers from the Sudan and Chad flocked into Libya via the old slave trading routes, but now in motorised transport. Kufra became a hub for migrants. The number of ‘travel agents and vehicle repair shops’ proliferated. Competition for control of the people trafficking and smuggling business grew between the Zawiya and the Tebu.
The water which supplies the Kufra oasis is from the Nubian Sandstone Aquifer System, the world’s largest fossil water aquifer which underlies North Western Sudan, North Eastern Chad, Much of Egypt and some of the South of Libya. One of the notable public works projects funded by revenue from Libya’s oil was to tap the aquifer and pipe fossil water to Benghazi and Tripoli. A centre point irrigation scheme, extracting the fossil water through artisan wells, was also set up near Kufra with the intention of developing a flourishing agriculture, hampered, however, by its remoteness and consequent cost of bringing the fresh produce to market.
Independence came to Libya in 1953 which then became ‘The United Kingdom of Libya’ with the sometime Emir of Cyrenaica, Idris es Senussi as its monarch. The search for oil quickened until the country became a major oil producer. The great wealth which followed attracted numerous economic migrants for sub-Saharan Africa. Many Tebu migrated into Libya from their homeland in the Tibesti Mountains. The Tebu population in Kufra grew apace as did tension between Tebu and Zawiya.
King Idris, always a reluctant monarch, abdicated in 1969 and Muammar Gaddafi mounted a pre-emptive coup whilst the old King’s favoured successors were still abed. His rule, which lasted until 2011, was erratic and autocratic. He stirred up enmity between the Zawiya and the Tebu by means of a classic disinformation ploy. He implied that the Tebu were brought into Kufra by the much hated Italians.
Gaddafi’s grandiose ambitions were directed towards Africa and in particular Chad. Between 1968 and 1987 Gaddafi launched a number of military incursions into Chad and for a while maintained a military occupation of Chadian territory. One of the results was a further increase of Tebu in Kufra. Gaddafi’s forces were roundly defeated in the so called Toyota Wars and left Chad in 1987. One of the cruel outcomes of Gaddafi’s occupation of northern Chad was the large numbers of land mines his forces left behind in the Tebu homelands. They interrupted migratory patterns and made swaths of the country uninhabitable. There followed a further increase in the Tebu population in Kufra. In addition, the uneasy relationship between the Zawiya and the Tebu was exacerbated during Gaddafi’s war with Chad. Since the majority of the Tebu live in Chad those who established in Kufra were perceived to be 5th Columnists
In 2011 the uprising against Gaddafi commenced. France, the UK and the Arab League became involved and matters fared badly for Gaddafi who was forced to employ mercenaries. Many of them were recruited in Chad. Since the Tebu homeland is mainly in the Tibesti mountain region of northern Chad it was an easy propagandist ploy to label all Tebu as mercenaries.
In 2011 the Tebu formed an armed militia called the Desert Shield Brigade and joined the anti-Gaddafi forces. The Zawiya appear to he been divided in loyalty. The Gaddafi regime was toppled and the proliferation of arms from the looting of Gaddafi’s considerable arms dumps has resulted in the breakdown of law and order.
There are now two rival governments in Libya which are in bitter and often armed opposition to each other. Neither has the will nor the wherewithal to control the remote south and consequently old enmities are now pursued with deadly consequences. These reports in the Libya Herald illustrate the point:
Dated 27 July 2015: ‘Despite reports of a ceasefire agreed yesterday in Kufra between Zawia and Tebu fighters, with a promise to hand over prisoners, there has again been heavy fighting in the town today, for the third day in succession. Continued intermittent clashes between the two communities re-erupted into full-scale violence on Friday since when at least 14 people have been killed two dozen wounded.
“Nine Zwai members and five Tebu people have been killed and the number of casualties is over 25, from both communities” Salah Al-Sanussi, a Tebu elder living in Kufra, told the Libya Herald today.
“Mortar and heavy artillery fire is being exchanged and there is absolutely no safe police left,” he said.
Most of the current fighting is around the Tebu district of Gadarfai, which separates the two Zwai areas of Bu-Shoug and Al-Harah, as well as at the Al-Khadrah roundabout in the south of the town.
Tebu fighters are also reported to have fired mortars at the Kufra airport, located at Zwai area of the town, forcing its closure.
A week ago, when five people, including two Bangladeshi workers, were killed in a Zwai-Tebu shootout, the town’s National Security Directorate spokesman warned of rising tension between the two communities. Lieutenant Mohammed Khalil said that the main streets of the town were closed because of sniper activities by both sides and that the Directorate did not have the power to put a stop to the clashes.
Zwai and Tebu elders and other local leaders were trying their best to contain the situation, he said, but it was deteriorating fast………..31 July 2015: Communal clashes in the south-eastern oasis of Kufra have now continued for just over a week, with the government and the Libyan National Army (LNA) still unable to control the conflict.
Tebu-Zwai tit-for-tat killings over the last month once again exploded into bloody armed clashes between the two tribes on Friday last week. In the past couple of days, some 15 people are said to have been killed.’
This is an unfinished story with an unpredictable outcome. The troubles in Kufra are far from over. Both the Tebu and Zawiya are in competition for the lucrative people trafficking, drug and arms smuggling trade centred on Kufra. There are also rumours of foreign interference, particularly from the Sudan. I believe that Ansar Sharia, the Salafist-Jihadist group which has been listed by the USA as a terrorist organisation, has a foothold in Kufra where it seems to control the road to Jalo, and thus of most of the northbound traffic.
Around 17% of Libya’s oil reserves lies in the Zawiya homeland as do the source wells for the Great Man Made River carrying water from the Nubian Sub-Saharan Aquifer to the coastal cities. The Zawiya have sometimes threatened to cut off both of these vital resources.
For more contemporary background this paper is worth reading:
http://carnegieendowment.org/files/libya_security_2.pdf
John Oakes
10th September 2105
NOTE – HASSANIEN BEY AND ROSITA FORBES
The achievements of Hassanien Bey who was accompanied by Rosita Forbes on the epic journey to Kufra in 1922 (mentioned above) were overshadowed by Forbes who rushed into print with her book ‘The Secret of the Sahara: Kufra’. Hassanien Bey made a further and more extensive expedition into the Libya Desert. An article about his travels, with photographs of Kufra, Zawiya sheiks and a Tebu woman, appeared in the National Geographic Magazine in September 1924 and may be accessed here.
http://www.saharasafaris.org/hassaneinbey/dwnld/natgeog1924-text.pdf

Update 23rd September 2015

Reports from Kufra on 20th September 2015 suggest that some30 have recently been killed and dozens wounded in fresh fighting and that the town council is threatening to seek foreign help in the absence of support from ether the Tripoli or Beda governments.

‘IT IS TIME TO SELL THE CHILDREN’ – SOME REFLECTIONS ON PEOPLE TRAFFICKING IN LIBYA – UPDATED 9TH JUNE 2016

leave a comment »

When drought hits the people of Northern Niger they often say ‘it is time to sell the children’. Sometimes they do just that. It is little wonder that so many people of the Sahel now set out on the long and dangerous journey to Europe where the streets seem to be paved with gold. Many of them travel the old trans-Saharan slave trafficking routes through Libya. There are few people writing about Libyan people trafficking with real experience of living there. Without that experience it is difficult for observers to understand the great distances and physical hazards migrants must overcome to reach the Mediterranean shore and embark on the hazardous sea crossing. Libya is a very large country much of which is inhospitable. I lived and worked there for more than eight years and drove my less than reliable British motor car over its roads. It was in the middle of the last century admittedly. Libya was just then emerging from being one of the poorest countries in the world into oil rich nationhood and Gaddafi was still training in the Royal Libyan Military Academy. Tribes still migrated with their flocks and telephone communication was sparse and intermittent. King Idris was still nominally in charge but he was a reluctant monarch who attempted to abdicate at least twice whilst I was there. I have not driven but have flown over some of the other countries the migrants traverse such as Chad and Niger. From the air the Libyan Desert and the Sahara look forbidding enough but the view through an aircraft widow is a privileged one and not shared by an impoverished migrant riding the roads and tracks in an overloaded Toyota half truck. We have no real data about the number who die on the land leg of their journey but I suspect there are many. The simplest of the long road trips I made regularly was from Tripoli to Tobruk along the old military road constructed by the Italians when they occupied Libya. They built rest stations along the way but in my day these had been abandoned. The last remnant of the Italian colonial way stations was Mamma Rosa’s bar at Ben Juade. Mamma Rosa’s daughter had acquired somewhat overrated popularity born of long periods of life without women amongst those who drove supplies to the oilrigs deep in the hinterland. At Mamma Rosa’s one could purchase a cold drink, admire her daughter and watch camels replenish their capacious water storage organs at the drinking troughs. The distance by road from Tripoli to Tobruk via Misrata, Sirte, Ajdabia, Benghazi and Derna is approximately 1,460 kilometres and the journey should take around 19 hours if you drive without stopping at Libya speeds. Few would attempt to do so, even today. The road was not in good repair in the middle years of the last century when I travelling around Libya. On one notable occasion I was met and summarily forced off the road a few kilometres west of Ajdabia by a motor convoy conveying King Idris from Tripoli to Tobruk. The poor king, who was not in robust health, was so shaken up by the numerous potholes in the road that he caused them to be repaired by a Greek construction company. The Greeks succeeded in replacing the potholes with lumps which were almost as destructive. Land travel in Libya is hazardous for a number of reasons. Libyan drivers are rather reckless and are not keen on being overtaken. Wrecked cars are not uncommon, even on long strait roads. Also it gets very hot indeed during the day in the summer but the temperature dips steeply at night. As I write the temperature in Ajdabia is 40C and is forecast to drop to 23C tonight. High winds can make life very difficult. I drove through a gale whilst near Marsa Brega when the sand blast raised by the wind was so severe it stripped paint off the front of my car and polished its sump to a high shine. Water is not readily available and dehydration can be lethal. Vehicles which overheat are not recommended. A real, but fortunately infrequent, hazard is the hot wind which rolls up from the deep south. These winds are known as Khamseens in Egypt. In Libya they are called Ghiblis and they are formidable and can kill. The sight of a Ghibli as it approached me over the Red Plane west of Benghazi frightened me a great deal. These awful sandstorms suffocate one in dust. There is only one thing to do and that is to stop and sit it out in the hope that one does not dehydrate and that the motor engine will not have seized up with sand when the storm has passed. They can last up to four days and they are hot. Nowadays enterprising militias set up roadblocks to augment their fighting funds and it is fatal for Christian migrants to meet Islamic State fanatics who kill them brutally. Their default method is beheading. Islamic Sate is in control of the city of Sirte on the Tripoli to Benghazi road. I knew the city of Ajdabia well enough. I would stop there on my regular journeys from Benghazi to the developing oil ports on the shores of the Gulf of Sirte. I often ate a late breakfast in one of its cafes of a boiled egg and a cup of very strong and very sweet coffee, known in Libya as ‘Ghid Ghid’. So strong and addictive is ‘Ghid Ghid’ that it may account for the lack of harmony which besets Libya today! It is an interesting town. It has strategic value today because it is here that members of two major Libyan tribes, Al Magharba and Al Zuweya, live in a wary coexistence. The Magharba now exercises a great deal of influence over the oil terminals on the shores of the Gulf of Sirte and the Zuweya tribe’s homeland includes a major section of Libya’s oilfields. It is at Ajdabia that the coastal road from Tripoli now branches in three directions, one branch goes north east across the white and red plains to Benghazi, a second strikes out eastwards across the southern foothills of the Jebel Akhdar, roughly following the old Trig al Abd camel track to Tobruk, and a third takes the hazardous route going SSE in the direction of Kufra and, even further south, to the Jebal Uweinat. This is one of the main roads for people trafficking. The distances are enormous. For example the Jebal Uweinat is around 1,200 kilometres from Ajdabia. Ajdabia is now one of the northern hubs on the people trafficking routs from East Africa and the Horn of Africa via Khartoum and Dongola in the Sudan and Kufra in Libya’s Deep South. From Ajdabia traffickers often take their human cargo westwards to Tripoli to find the fragile and unstable boats in which they are packed to hazard the Mediterranean crossing to Lampedusa, Malta, Sicily and mainland Italy. Kufra is an oasis town which is now Libya’s the south eastern hub for people trafficking. The route through Kufra to Ajdabia is favoured by refugees from Eritrea and Somalia. Data from the International Organization for Migration shows that these two countries are large contributors to the tide of human migration into Southern Europe. Many of the young migrants from Eritrea appear to be escaping military conscription and Somalia has long been a failed state, a veritable model of anarchy. Recently a number of refugees from Syria have been using this route. They are escaping the Syrian misery and finding their way to Turkey from whence they fly to Khartoum and travel thence by land to Kufra. That would be complicated enough but they still have to get to the Mediterranean coast from Kufra and then make the parlous crossing to a European shore. It is a demonstration of the lengths human beings will go to find a future for themselves and their progeny. It is also a demonstration of the firestorm of warfare, religious intolerance, corruption, grinding poverty and racial hatred which blights a great swathe of the Middle East and Africa. For those who make it as far as Kufra the journey to Europe would be hard enough but Libya is a failed state. Civil society is near nonexistent and corruption is rampant. The economy is collapsing as Libyans fight each other, the oil revenue diminishes and trade dries up. The people traffickers are growing ever more callous and brazen. Human trafficking from Libya across the Mediterranean was a $170 million business last year. Some Sudanese traffickers are taking their clients on a new route westward from Dongola and Khartoum to Quatrun and Sebha in the Libya’s Fezzan. Here the migrants from East Africa join those from the Sahel and West Africa who trek eastwards via Bamako in Mali and Naimy, Agadez and Dirku in Niger. This is the route followed by drug smugglers carrying their lethal mind altering chemicals shipped into corrupt West African states by the South American drug cartels. A substantial number of the ‘western’ migrants originate in Mali, Nigeria, Senegal and the Gambia. Once in Quatrun the migrants face a 1057 kilometre road trip to Tripoli before they embark on the lethal sea crossing to Lampedusa, Malta, Sicily or mainland Italy. Libya is shouldering the blame for the tide of economic migrants attempting to cross the Mediterranean. There is no doubt that unscrupulous people traffickers are making money out of human misery and that Libya is disintegrating into chaos. The migrants are following tracks made by their ancestors who were sold into slavery by unscrupulous Sultans in Darfur, Wadai and Kano and trafficked across the Sahara. Even today they may see the skeletons of those who were left to die for the desert is slow to recycle bones. It is time to question the resounding silence of the Africa Heads of States from whose lands the tides of migrants have their origin. John Oakes 25th June 2015

BOOKS BY JOHN OAKES For books by John Oakes see… (USA): http://www.amazon.com/John-Oakes/e/B001K86D3O/ref=ntt_athr_dp_pel_1 ….. (UK): http://www.amazon.co.uk/John-Oakes/e/B001K86D3O/ref=ntt_athr_dp_pel_pop_1

Update 30th June 2015

From the Libya Herald 28th June 2015:

The EU states also have to contend with the attractive business and economic model of people smuggling. An illegal migrant worker is charged between a low of US$ 1,000 and US$ 3,000 per crossing with some boats carrying up to 700 people. The average Libyan border guard or policeman gets paid US$ 1,000 /month. The lure of people smuggling is very strong and a weak Libyan state, barring a return to dictatorship, will struggle to counter this lure for a few years to come.

Update 9th July 2015

This from Amnesty International can not be ignored:

https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2015/05/libya-horrific-abuse-driving-migrants-to-risk-lives-in-mediterranean-crossings/

Update 19th September 2015

A graphic piece about the perils of the land leg of the trans-Saharan migrant journey:

http://www.mcclatchydc.com/news/nation-world/world/middle-east/article24785137.html

Update 9th June 2016

This is from the Libya Herald and is dated 7th June 2016. It represents the Libyan view about people trafficking:
London, 7 June 2016:

Libya’s Government of National Accord Prime Minister-elect and head of its Presidency Council, Faiez Serraj, has sunk EU policy on illegal migration by refusing to accept migrants picked up at sea back onto Libyan territory.

The news comes as the Libyan Red Crescent updated the number of migrant dead bodies washing up on the Zuwara coast over the last few days to 133.

Speaking over the weekend to a number of media outlets, Serraj rejected a Turkey-style deal with the EU to hold onto illegal migrants and possible refugees in ‘’reception centres’’ in Libya. Serraj said Libya and Turkey were different. Libya would not accept that the EU send them back to Libya to settle.

Serraj criticized the EU saying that bombing boats in the sea would not be the solution to illegal migration. He said that the solution must be found in the migrants’ countries of origin. He insisted that Libya would not allow migrants to use Libya as a transit country, however.

He said that the EU must send illegal migrants back to their home countries, adding that on this issue Libya and the EU were in disagreement.

Backing his Prime Minister-elect, Libya’s GNA Foreign Minister-elect, Mohamed Siala confirmed the position taken on the issue by Serraj. Siala reiterated that Libya would not be accepting back migrants that sailed from Libya.

Siala said that illegal migrants should be returned to their country of origin and not to the country of transit. He said that these had entered Libya illegally. Siala said that if a large number of illegal migrants accumulated in Libya with its relatively small population of over 6 million, they would have a great (negative) effect on Libya’s demographic make-up.

The highly experienced Siala, who had held a number of high governmental positions in the previous Qaddafi regime, including Deputy Foreign Minister, pointed out the existence of a Libyan-Italian agreement which stipulates that any illegal migrants that travel to Libya illegally, without documents or visas, cannot be returned to Libya.

He stressed that this agreement would be implemented.

These latest pronouncements by the UN-backed GNA through its Prime Minister-elect and Foreign Minister-elect will be a big blow to the EU. It completely scuppers EU anti-illegal migration policy in the central Mediterranean based upon installing a pro-EU Libyan government in Tripoli which was expected to agree to a deal on the lines of that struck with Turkey.

The EU had hoped that Libya would either retain most illegal migrants attempting to cross the Mediterranean or accept those rescued at sea into ‘’reception centres’’ on Libyan soil.

Meanwhile, international aid agencies such as MSF (Medecins Sans Frontiers) and Human Rights Watch (HRW) have been critical of EU policy intentions to return migrants to Libya.

MSF’s UK Executive Director, Vicky Hawkins, told Libya Herald today that “European governments should not be sending people back to Libya”.

“Last year MSF operated three rescue boats in the Mediterranean. 92% of our patients fleeing Libya by boat reported having directly experienced violence in the country, while 100% witnessed extreme violence against refugees and migrants including beatings, murders and sexual violence. No wonder people are trying to flee”.

“All European governments must uphold their legal and moral responsibilities and urgently increase the proper management of refugee claims across Europe. This is the only solution for this crisis that will not lead to an unacceptable level of suffering”, she concluded.

Equally, HRW said that the EU should do less prevention and more search and rescue at sea. It said that the EU should provide safe and legal routes for refugees. It said that ‘’trapping people in detention centres in Libya would expose them to terrible harm”.
It added that ‘‘partnering with Libya on migration would be disastrous. While smugglers bear direct responsibility for sending boats from Libya, European governments share moral and political responsibility’’.

It is worth pointing out to readers that while the issue of illegal migration is very prominent in EU political and media debates, it figures very low on the minds of Libyans and on the internal Libyan political agenda.

Libya is currently suffering a political and economic crises reflected in high foreign exchange rates, high prices and inflation, cash-shortages at banks, late salary payments and high rates of militia-related crime and kidnapping.

As most illegal migrants are loaded onto their boats away from prying eyes, usually after midnight, Libyans get to see very little of the phenomenon at home.