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‘IT IS TIME TO SELL THE CHILDREN’ – SOME REFLECTIONS ON PEOPLE TRAFFICKING IN LIBYA – UPDATED 28th FEBRUARY 2017

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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.

Update 28th February 2017

This detailed and extensive report is essential reading for anyone interested in the human condition;

https://www.unicef.de/blob/135970/6178f12582223da6980ee1974a772c14/a-deadl-journey-for-children—unicef-report-data.pdf

 

 

 

 

THE LIBYAN CIVIL WAR – SOME CONSEQUENCES FOR CHILDREN

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To alert a wider readership to some of the consequences for children of the recent civil war in Libya and its repercussions in the Sahel.

AN OVERVIEW

The intervention by NATO and Qatar in 2011 on behalf of the anti-Gadaffi National Transition Council was successful in achieving regime change in Libya. The demise of the dictator, Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, was greeted with acclaim in the west. However his rule had been both cruel and powerful and his fall left Libya without a civic society and, in particular, a respected police force and an effective army. The country has since been dominated by armed militias which were originally raised to fight Gadaffi’s forces and have not been disbanded.
Gaddafi purchased huge quantities of arms and ammunition which were stored in depots around the country. After his fall these depots were looted and some arms illegally exported to neighbouring countries. The Libyan militias are now armed with tanks and heavy weapons. The use of landmines by Gaddafi’s forces has been excessive and there are areas in Libya and neighbouring Chad which are now extremely hazardous.
Gaddafi’s ‘Arabiseation’ policy resulted in the suppression the Berber minority in Libya’s western Jebel Nefusa and the black Tebu people of the south. Intertribal ‘revenge’ skirmishes between Arab tribes and these minority peoples have become endemic since the regime change.
Gaddafi used Tuaregs as mercenaries, arming them and hardening them in battle. They have returned to their homelands bearing arms and are pursuing their ambitions with not a little violence. They have joined the Al Qaeda franchises and criminal gangs in the bad lands of northern Mali to create a potential ‘Somalia’ which has a destabilising influence in Niger, Algeria, Burkina Faso, Mauritania and possibly Nigeria.
Gaddafi used African mercenaries from Chad and other sub-Saharan states in the recent civil war. Until the civil war began nationals of Chad, Niger and the Sudan were the most numerous and settled migrants in Libya. Since his regime fell many fled under difficult circumstances and black migrants and black Libyan nationals have been imprisoned and ill-treated on the grounds that they might be ex mercenaries. Lately the accusations of being mercenaries have been replaced by allegations of witchcraft, spreading AIDs or public drunkenness.
Libya’s borders, especially in the south, are very long and difficult to control. They have always been porous and are now even more so, resulting in ill-controlled smuggling of arms, alcohol, drugs and people.
Gadaffi’s personalised foreign policy was focussed on achieving dominance in Africa and to that end he purchased personal power within the African Union. He acted as both a protagonist and mediator in the internal and external disputes of neighbouring countries, especially the Sudan and Chad. He waged an unsuccessful war against Chad between 1980 and 1987 and eventually exercised unprecedented influence over its affairs. It became a virtual client state. The effect of the loss of the Gaddafi regime’s extensive investments in the Sahel countries has yet to be analysed.

THE LIBYAN MILITIAS

On the 17th February 2013 Libyans will celebrate the second anniversary of the Benghazi uprising which triggered the fall of Gaddafi. As they do so they may feel that their new leaders have been too slow to control the numerous revolutionary militias formed during the civil war and have yet to disband. The militiamen argue that they fought to topple Gaddafi and are entitled to say who runs their country. Since they are heavily armed, some with artillery and tanks, they easily assert their authority because the regular army was weakened and there is no real police force. What is more, the Gaddafi regime had destroyed civic society and outlawed political parties.
The capital, Tripoli, is a case in point. There are at least seven armed militias controlling the city, one of which is led by the sometime Islamist fighter, Abdul Hakim Belhadj. The leader of another group, Abdullah Ahmed Naker, recently claimed to have 22,000 armed men at his disposal and that his forces already controlled of 75 per cent of the capital, whereas Belhadj could only call on 2,000 armed supporters.
A notable militia is from the town of Zintan. It is this militia which captured Gaddafi’s favourite son, Saif el Islam. He is still incarcerated in Zintan, apparently without access to a lawyer. Berbers from the Gebel Nefusa also maintain a militia in Tripoli. Clearly they intend to see that the Berbers, long suppressed by Gaddafi, are not marginalised in the new Libya.
The provisional Libyan government seems to have abandoned its third largest city, Misurata, to its militias of which there are thought to be 170 or so. The strongest is probably the Hablus Brigade which still has 500 militiamen at its disposal. The Misuratans appear to control a region stretching from the east of Tripoli to Sirte, Gaddafi’s old home town.
Some of the militias have been accused of mistreating suspected Gaddafi loyalist. There may have been torture, extrajudicial executions and rape of both men and women. Armed militias are still holding as many prisoners suspected of being Gaddafi loyalists or mercenaries in detention centres around the country.

THE CHILDREN OF DISPLACED PEOPLE IN LIBYA

AN EYEWITNESS ACCOUNT
Chad and Niger, situated at the southern border of Libya, share a large stretch of desert with Libya, making any journey across the border a difficult and dangerous endeavour. Even so, as the civil war developed, many sub-Saharan migrants fled across the border bad lands. When Tripoli fell, the returning migrants found the route blocked at Sebha in southern Libya. Other were arrested and detained arbitrarily. There was also a substantial flow of escaping sub-Saharan migrants who attempted to reach Europe via Tunis, Algeria and Egypt.
Amnesty International and the press have published witness statements about the atrocities committed against migrants of sub-Saharan origin in Libya. One report entitled ‘Children raped in front of families’ carried by the British Chanel 4 News needs corroborating and thus is to be read with due caution: “Families who fled some of the bitterest fighting in Libya have told Save the Children that children as young as eight, have been sexually assaulted in front of family members. One group of mothers said girls had been held for four days and raped, after which they have been unable to speak. Other children said they saw their fathers killed before them and their mothers raped.
Michael Mahrt, Save the Children’s Child Protection Advisor, said: “The reports of sexual violence against children are unconfirmed but they are consistent and were repeated across the four camps we visited…..Children told us they have witnessed horrendous scenes. Some said they saw their fathers murdered and mothers raped. They described things happening to other children but they may have actually happened to them and they are just too upset to talk about it – it’s a typical coping mechanism used by children who have suffered such abuse…..What is most worrying is that we have only been able to speak to a limited number of children – what else is happening to those who are trapped in Misurata and other parts of the country who do not have a voice?” Save the Children is calling for the international community to ensure that all parties respect children’s right to be protected from violence and abuse. The charity is urgently scaling up its child protection work in Benghazi including training social workers to provide children with psycho-social support [1 ].

A NOTE ADDED ON 28TH FEBRUARY 2017

The breakdown of law and order since 2011 has resulted in increased numbers of children being maltreated by criminal people traffickers in Libya. 

THIS UNICEF REPORT IS ESSENTIAL READING

LIBYA -THE MISURATANS AND THE BLACK TRIBE OF TAWERGHA
In Libya today, Tawergha is a ghost town 38 kilometres from Misurata on the road to Sirte. In August of 2011, Misuratan militias broke out of the brutal siege of their city by Colonel Gaddafi’s forces and attacked their neighbours in Tawergha on whom the late dictator had once lavished money and favour. Accused of crimes against Misuratan civilians during the civil war siege, all 35,000 or so residents of Tawergha fled and their town was systematically looted and destroyed by vengeful Misuratans. (Gadaffi’s forces had laagered in Tawergha whilst conducting the siege of Misurata and some of the young men of the town joined them in the fighting. Accusations of rape have been levied at them, though not yet substantiated.)
Tawergha was mostly populated with black Libyans, a legacy of its 19th-century origins as a transit town in the trans-Saharan slave trade route. Now, on the gates of many of the deserted and vandalized homes Misuratans have scrawled the words “slaves” and “negroes.” (John Wright in his book, The Trans Saharan Slave Trade, suggests that Misurata may have survived as a quiet, unmolested, slaving centre until the very end of the 19th century, though how the descendants of slaves came to form a community 38 kilometres southeast of Misurata and survive as a clan or tribe for so many years is a mystery.)
There are disturbing allegations circulating in the media. For example, Sam Dagher of the Wall Street Journal reported on 18th September 2011 that Mahmoud Jibril, the Libyan National Transitional Council Prime Minister, made this statement at a public meeting at the Misurata town hall: “Regarding Tawergha, my own viewpoint is that nobody has the right to interfere in this matter except the people of Misurata.”…..“This matter can’t be tackled through theories and textbook examples of national reconciliation like those in South Africa, Ireland and Eastern Europe.” Sam Dagher himself witnessed the burning of more than a dozen homes in the town

Temporary sites for displaced Tawergha have grown up and still remain. The UHCR reports that some 20,000 of them have been registered in sites in Tripoli, Benghazi, Tarhouna and other smaller towns across the country. Another 7,000 Tawerghans were discovered in the south, near the town of Sebha. There must be some who remain unaccounted for – either staying with relatives or friends or hiding in the desert, afraid to emerge.
According to a report in the Libya Herald dated 8th November 2012 about eleven thousand displaced Tawergha people are currently in seven camps in Benghazi where the unsanitary conditions are aggravated by rain and cold. Concern is growing that Tawergha children are the victims of discrimination as schools and universities are refusing to accept them.
The Libyan Herald report also states that Mustafa Abdel Jalil, the former president of the National Transitional council, and interim Prime Minister Abdurrahim Al-Kib told the Tawerghans that it is still not the right time for them to return to their town since the authorities are not yet in a position to guarantee their safety. Their future is bleak. Today the vandalised town of Tawergha is surrounded by armed militiamen from Misurata. They are tasked to ensure that no one returns. For them Tawergha no longer exists [2 ].
LIBYA – THE NEFUSA MOUNTAINS
The internal displacement of whole groups of people is still taking place. The advances of anti-Gadaffi forces in the Nefusa Mountains south of Tripoli led to the displacement of some 17,000 members of the Mashashya tribe, which was granted land around the town of Al Awiniya by Gadaffi in the 1970s. Although some members of this tribe held their ground they remain under threat of expulsion. A further 6,000 members of the Gualish tribe were also displaced from land they had traditionally occupied in a tribal conflict with the Kikla people. A number of smaller and often short-term waves of displacement have resulted from local disputes have flared up in the south and west of the country [ 3].

THE SAHEL COUNTRIES – CHILDREN AND THE SECONDARY EFFECT OF THE LIBYAN CIVIL WAR

MALI – THE TUAREGS, Al QAEDA AND ANSAR DINE
‘Northern Mali has imploded from a mix of poverty, drought, guns, corruption, marginalisation – and destabilisation following the fall of Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi – while the primary vector of this chaos remains the long-suffering Tuareg populace……….’ May Ling Welsh [ 4]
Gaddafi was drawn to the Tauregs, the so called Blue Men of the Sahara, and he spent much treasure and effort interfering in their affairs. He recruited large numbers of them into his army and they fought for him in Chad and during the recent civil war in Libya. His demise has left them without a sponsor and ally, albeit an erratic one. They are a nomadic people whose homeland is in Algeria, Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso and Libya. It is difficult to be accurate but I suspect that they number at least 3 million. The Tuareg of Niger amounted to nearly 1.8 million in 1998. The Azawad region of Mali harboured 1.5 million in 1991. Algeria had under a million in the late 1980s. There is also a small population near the Nigerian city of Kano whilst Libya was home to nearly 20,000. [ 5].
Mali is a big, landlocked country much of which is the home to some large Tuareg groups who live their unique nomadic life in its vast desert and whose origin is a mystery and customs warlike. They had been conducting a rebellion against the Mali government of President Amadou Toumani Toure based in the largely Christian south.
Two events led to further discord. On 22nd March 2012 a military coup by the western trained Mali army deposed President Toure because he was not dealing effectively with the Tuareg rebellion. The military handed over power to a civilian government but were destabilise at a crucial time leaving a power vacuum. The Tuareg rebels, now stiffened and heavily armed by Gaddafi’s sometime mercenaries, took advantage and grabbed control of the province of Anzawad, an area in the north of Mali nearly as large as France.
There were others lurking in the background ready to piggyback on the Tuareg rebellion. Amongst them were men of an al Qaeda franchise called Ansar Dine. Its name means “Defenders of the Faith” and its followers embrace a puritanical form of Islam known as Salafism.
Ansar Dine muscled in on the Tuareg separatists and together they declared an independent Islamic state in Northern Mali. However they were uneasy bedfellows. At first Ansar Dine’s turbaned fighters gained a reputation for keeping order after outbreaks of looting. When they started enforcing strict sharia law they earned hostility from locals in Timbuktu and Gao who practised a more tolerant style of Islam.
In June 2012, the Movement for Jihad and Unity in West Africa (MUJAO), another al-Qaeda linked group with Algerian connections, took control of the headquarters of the Tuareg separatists in northern Mali. The Mali government has so far been powerless to act against them and are currently seeking outside assistance. [ 6].
The Al Qaeda franchise in the region immediately took advantage of the opportunity to assume power in Northern Mali with disastrous consequences for the region. UNHCR has reported that 34,977 Malians escaped to Burkina Faso, 108,942 fled to Mauritania and 58,312 went to Niger. Some 118,000 Malians have been internally displaced, 35,300 of them in the regions of Kidal, Gao and Timbuktu. [7 ].
CHILD SOLDIERS IN MALI
On 17th August 2012 a UNICEF spokesperson in Geneva stated: “UNICEF is raising the alarm over recruitment of children in northern Mali. UNICEF has received credible reports that armed groups in the north are increasingly recruiting and using children. Increasing numbers of boys are being used for military purposes – as fighters, porters, cooks and for patrols. While it is difficult to establish precise figures, reliable sources have stated that the numbers involved are in the hundreds and appear to be escalating. UNICEF is calling on all parties to the conflict as well as leaders and community members, to make sure that children are protected from the harmful impact of armed conflict and do not participate in hostilities”. [8 ] …… UNICEF also warned of the deteriorating conditions in northern Mali, where the malnutrition rate is among the highest in the country. “Islamists who seized control of part of Mali are amassing money from ransoms and drug trafficking while imposing Sharia law, says a senior UN official. They are also buying child soldiers, paying families $600 (£375) per child”. (Ivan Simonovic (UN Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights) said after a fact-finding visit to the country).” [9]
Many residents of Timbuktu, Kidal, and Gao regions told Human Rights Watch that they saw children inside apparent training camps of the Islamist armed groups. They also observed children as young as 11 years manning checkpoints, conducting foot patrols, riding around in patrol vehicles, guarding prisoners, enforcing Sharia law, and cooking for rebel groups. One witness described children being taught to gather intelligence. [10 ]
Al Jazeera reports: ‘We saw scores of Tuareg child soldiers in northern Mali, especially among al-Qaeda-linked groups. Many come from communities that are extremely isolated and poor – where it is normal for a child to walk hours each day to bring water from distant wells, normal for children to lose a parent due to a lack of medical care, normal to be illiterate, and where every 10 years it is normal to lose some, half, or all of one’s animals, and to start once again from zero………’[11 ]

LIBYA AND THE TRANS-SAHARAN PEOPLE TRAFFICKING ROUTES

People traffickers are amongst the beneficiaries of the streams of economic migrants and asylum seekers moving through Libya on the old slave trading routes in an effort to reach Europe.
Libya’s long and un-policed desert borders allow people from African countries to be brought into the country undetected, and Libya’s 2,000-kilometer northern coastal border allows traffickers direct sea access to Europe. Emmanuel Gignac, head of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) in Libya observes that the trans-Saharan people trafficking routes have become more hazardous. The two main hubs are Kufra and Sebha in Libya. West African migrants are going through Sebha via Chad or Niger, and those originating from the Horn of Africa are going through Sudan to Kufra.
Kufra is a cluster of oases in south eastern Libya 1,500 kilometres or so from the Mediterranean coast. Around 60,000 people now live there. It is on the old trans-Saharan slave trade route from Chad in the south to Benghazi in the north. It is now on the illegal migrant route from Khartoum to the Mediterranean. There are other routes through western Libya from Timbuktu and Kano to Tripoli which were used in the past by slave traders. When they reach Kufra, migrants are transported at night across the desert to the coast in covered trucks.
Kufra was a holy place. It was the seat of the Senussi theocracy which, for a number of years, controlled the southern part of the old province of Cyreniaca and oversaw the passing slave trade which persisted until at least 1911 – slightly more than 100 years ago. It is now the hub of an illegal trade in arms, drugs, alcohol and humans. There have been a number of disturbances there between the resident Arab al-Zwia tribe and the African Tebu minority. These clashes reflect the ancient animosity between the Tebus and the al-Zawia but are also part of a turf war for control of the smuggling trade and people trafficking. Migrants arriving, or returning to Kufra, pay large sums for their transport to ‘travel agents’. They may be accommodated in detention centres.
A recent eyewitness report from Sebha, a city 640 Kilometres south of Tripoli, 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 Sebha, 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)”. Another example, though from elsewhere in Libya – the UNHCR visited Abu Rashada detention centre in Garyan (West Libya) on 15 October 2012 and reported: ‘840 individuals were detained [there] including 30 women, 7 of them pregnant, as well as 50 minors. The detainees were mainly from Niger, Sudan, Nigeria, Chad, Cameroon, Mali, and Somalia. UNHCR received reports of mistreatment’. [12 ]
The Nigerian Embassy in Libya offered this possibly dramatized warning to its nationals in a pamphlet in 2009. ‘Increasingly, among these migrants are young girls, who are lured into this journey under the pretext that they would work either in Libya or in Italy. Sadly, these girls end up in brothels, subjected to horrible sexual abuse, until they die in the hands of their captors. A few lucky ones are rescued by the police or the Nigerian Mission in one of the transit countries. Unfortunately, for most of them life would never be the same again, as they often contract HIV/AIDS while in these brothels.’ UNICEF reports that ‘Poverty is the key motivation for parents to send their children abroad. But they are unaware of the perils most children face in transit and at their destinations. An estimated 200,000 children are victims of child trafficking in Africa each year. Research has shown that most of the children trafficked to Libya are exploited as labourers in plantations or as child domestic workers.’ [13 ]
When the migrants travelling to Europe reach the Libyan coast they are embarked on flimsy and overcrowded boats for the hazardous sea trip to Malta, Lampedusa or Sicily. The UN Refugee Agency released figures in January 2012 showing that more than 1,500 irregular migrants or refugees drowned or went missing in 2011 while attempting crossings of the Mediterranean Sea. The Times of Malta dated 27th May 2012 carried this report; ‘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.’

THE COMBINED EFFECT OF THE LIBYAN CIVIL WAR AND DROUGHT IN THE SAHEL COUNTRIES

The effect of drought in the Sahel, possibly because of climate change, has been clear for some time. As a starting point we might note that UNICEF predicts that ‘over 4 million children are projected to suffer from acute malnutrition this year [2012] across the nine countries of the Sahel, including nearly 1.1 million children who will face life-threatening severe acute malnutrition’.[14 ]
Before the 2011 civil war labour migration to Libya acted as a key source of income for the development of neighbouring communities. The loss of remittances has had an adverse effect on these countries, particularly in light of looming food crises. The stream of returnees to Chad meant that the towns near the Libyan border doubled in size quickly and the breakdown in trade with southern Libya caused food prices to rise rapidly. The combined threat of drought, high food prices, displacement and chronic poverty is affecting millions of people in 2012.
The Food and Agricultural Organisation of the United Nations has stated that ‘food insecurity and malnutrition are recurrent in the region with more than 16 million people directly at risk this year [2012]. Drought has reduced Sahelian cereal production by 26 per cent as compared to last year, Chad and Gambia are experiencing 50 per cent decreases and other countries are suffering serious localized deficits. Severe fodder shortages are leading to early transhumance and changing livestock corridors, causing tensions to rise between communities and at border areas. The situation is compounded by high food prices and a decrease in remittances owing to the global economic crisis and the return of migrants from Libya. The deteriorating security situation in Northern areas is further aggravating the problem. The overall priorities in the region include: protecting the livelihoods of the most vulnerable’. [15 ]
Given the mounting number of reports of conflict it is surprising what little attention is now paid to the plight of children in the Sahel. The UN Security Council took this view of the situation in Chad in 2011. ‘The displacement of families as a result of both the volatile security situation and the economic situation has resulted in the movement of children, within some areas in eastern Chad, as well as into the Sudan, in extremely vulnerable conditions, making them potential targets for exploitation, recruitment and trafficking. Several incidents of child abduction and trafficking for forced labour and commercial sexual exploitation purposes have been brought to the attention of the Task Force.’[16 ]

LAND MINES AND UNEXPLODED ORDINANCE ARE A SPECIAL THREAT TO CHILDREN

Land mines and unexploded weapons take large swaths of country out of agricultural use, divert migratory routes and keep aid agencies away.
IN LIBYA
High levels of abandoned and unexploded ordnance still litter towns and roads where fighting took place and without adequate understanding of the dangers many people, especially children and internally displaced persons, remain at risk of serious harm.
“We know of some deaths[in Libya], but we’re expecting many more when the conflict fully winds down, especially among children,” said Sarah Marshall, a representative of the U.N. demining group. “Kids see shiny objects on the ground, and naturally reach out for them. Plus, you can’t just leave a school with a grad missile sitting in the parking lot.” [17 ]. In Misurata, Libya, children’s playgrounds can be dangerous places. Tragic accidents are common where air strikes on munitions storage facilities have spread unexploded bombs into civilian areas.[18 ] Children are particularly attracted to 23mm bullets as they are in abundance and easy to pick up. [19]
Human Rights Watch documented the extensive use of antipersonnel and anti-vehicle landmines by Gaddafi forces during the 2011. HRW researchers found at least five types of mines in nine locations, including around Ajadabia, in the Nefusa Mountains, near Brega, and in Misurata. Over the past year, local and international demining organizations have been working with Libyan authorities and the United Nations to collect and destroy this abandoned ordnance. [20]
IN CHAD
Chad is a vast, landlocked and arid central African country which harbours a largely nomadic population of 8.6 million on a territory twice the size of France. Three decades of war caused an estimated 200,000 to 400,000 deaths. It is struggling with a land mine problem. The affected areas are believed to cover 1,081 sq. km of land. Most of the mines were planted during the second Libyan occupation of northern Chad, from 1984 to 1987…..They are Gaddafi’s African legacy. [21 ]

A CONCLUSION – CIVIL  WAR, FAMINE AND ‘FEEDBACK LOOPS’

People in flight become vulnerable as soon as they leave their homes and their support network. The dispersal of refugee camps in difficult terrain poses logistical problems for relief agencies which are exacerbated by armed groups such as Islamist extremists, militias, criminal gangs, drug smugglers and people traffickers. Land mines and unexploded ordnance restrict the movement of aid and assistance.
There is a classic feedback loop. Famine increases dissatisfaction with governments. Dissatisfaction leads to conflict which attracts radical groups such as al Qaeda franchises. This leads to military mobilisation and the further displacement of people.
Already aid agencies in the region are withdrawing because of danger to their personnel. Children are extremely vulnerable in these conditions.

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

END NOTES

1] http://www.channel4.com/news/child-soldiers-sent-by-gaddafi-to-fight-libyan-rebels. Also see – The Battle for Libya: Killings, Disappearance and Torture, Amnesty International, 13th September 2011 and Africa without Gadaffi. The Case of Chad Crisis Group Africa Report No. 180. 21st October 2011.
2] Human Rights Council. Report of the International Commission of Inquiry on Libya. http://www.ohchr.org/Documents/HRBodies/HRCouncil/RegularSession/Session19/A.HRC.19.68.pdf https://libyastories.com/2012/11/15/misuratans-and-the-black-tribe-of-tawergha-a-fourth-in-the-libyan-tribes-series/
3] Human Rights Council. Report of the International Commission of Inquiry on Libya http://www.ohchr.org/Documents/HRBodies/HRCouncil/RegularSession/Session19/A.HRC.19.68.pdf
4] May Ying Welsh, Al Jazeera.8th July 2012. http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2012/07/201277173027451684.html
5] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-17582909
6] https://libyastories.com/2012/07/08/libya-and-the-law-of-unforeseen-consequences/
7] http://reliefweb.int/report/chad/depth-top-10-neglected-refugee-crises
8] http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/10/10/us-mali,
9] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-19905905
10] http://www.hrw.org/news/2012/09/25/mali-islamist-armed-groups-spread-fear-north seen and heard
11] http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2012/07/201277173027451684.html
12] Lucy Matieu in Le Temps dated 2012-07-06 and UNHCR Libya, External Update. October 2012 .

13] http://www.nigeriantripoli.org/illegal_migration.pdf and http://www.unicef.org/infobycountry/niger_51679.html
14] http://www.unicef.org/media/media_65267.html
15] http://www.fao.org/crisis/sahel/the-sahel-crisis/2012-crisis-in-the-sahel-region/en/
16] Report of the UN Security Council Secretary-General on children and armed conflict in Chad, S/2011/64.
17] Jon Jensen Global Post August 27, 2011 13:42 http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/middle-east/110827/libya-gaddafis-land-mines-still-threat
18] http://www.unicef.ca/en/discover/protecting-children-from-unexploded-landmines-in-liby,a
19] http://www.trust.org/alertnet/news/libya-one-year-on-the-battle-against-cluster-bombs-landmines-and-uxo/
20] http://www.hrw.org/news/2012/03/25/libya-good-start-landmine-destruction
21] http://www.irinnews.org/InDepthMain.aspx?InDepthId=19&ReportId=62837&Country=Yes

Update 23rd December 2014

This has just appeared in the Libya Herald!

Libyan human rights group calls for halt to militias hiring minors
By Libya Herald staff.
Tripoli, 22 December 2014:
The Libyan Observatory for Human Rights (LOHR) has expressed “deep concern” that ever greater numbers of Libyans under the age of 18 are being recruited into the ranks of the country’s militias.
Insisting that the use of minors be stopped, the LOHR called on parents to stop allowing their children to join militias, cautioning that “what is voluntary now will become mandatory in the future”.
There has been evidence of all sides using minors as fighters. Some of those killed in the fighting in Kikla were said to be under 16 years of age.
The LOHR also said that the forced recruitment of untrained civilians into the current conflicts had to stop.
The United Nations had to put pressure on the warring parties to engage in dialogue in order to resolve the political crisis in Libya, the group stressed.

Update 4th October 2015

I published this paper on 12/5/2012. Since that time the security situation in Libya has worsened considerably. This has just appeared in the Libya Herald:

Tunis, 3 October 2015:

Nearly a million children in Libya are at risk in one way or another because of the fighting that has gripped the country (Libya) says a UN agency.

The risks range from the fighting itself and battlefield detritus, to lack of proper food and healthcare, psychological trauma and physical and sexual abuse, said the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. In a report issued this week  it also claimed that children are being recruited, sometimes forcibly, by militias.

Over all, the OCHA is estimating that more than three million people – half of all Libyans – have been affected by the conflict and some 2.44 million are in need of protection and some form of humanitarian assistance.

ON THE TRANS-SAHARAN PEOPLE TRAFFICKING ROUTES – KUFRA (UPDATE 28TH FEBRUARY 2017)

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Kufra is a cluster of oases in south eastern Libya 1,500 kilometres or so from the Mediterranean coast. Around 60,000 people now live there. It is on the old trans-Saharan slave trade route from Chad in the south to Benghazi in the north. It is now on the illegal migrant route from Khartoum to the Mediterranean. There are other routes through western Libya from Timbuktu and Kano to Tripoli which were used in the past by slave traders.
When they reach Kufra, migrants are transported at night across the desert to the coast in covered trucks. They are then embarked on flimsy and overcrowded boats for the hazardous sea trip to Malta, Lampedusa or mainland Italy. The UN Refugee Agency released figures in January 2012 showing that more than 1,500 irregular migrants or refugees drowned or went missing last year while attempting crossings of the Mediterranean Sea.
Kufra was a holy place. It was the seat of the Senussi theocracy which, for a number of years, controlled the southern part of the old province of Cyreniaca and oversaw the passing slave trade which persisted until at least 1911. It is now the hub of an illegal trade in arms, drugs, alcohol and humans. There have been a number of disturbances there between the Arab al-Zwia tribe and the African Tebu minority. These clashes reflect the ancient animosity between the Tebus and the al-Zawia but are also part of a turf war for control of the smuggling trade and people trafficking.
The most striking thing about Kufra is that it is a very long way from anywhere. Libya’s defence ministry, ultimately responsible for securing nearly 6,400km of land and sea borders, has borne the brunt of public criticism for a hopelessly under-resourced effort to stem the flow of migrants. The Libyan government is not strong and the revolution which brought it to power all but destroyed the standing army and weekend the police force, effectively replacing both with local militias.
The movement of migrants from sub-Saharan Africa through Libya towards the countries of Sothern Europe is inexorable and growing. It is too easy to shift the responsibility for stemming the flow onto Libya which has a few problems of its own to deal with at the moment. There are forces outside its control which need attention.
In 2007 the Nigerian embassy in Tripoli published this:-‘For many Nigerians, the only means of reaching Europe is by taking the risk of crossing the Sahara Desert to one of the North African countries. Recently, Libya has become the most preferred country of transit for illegal immigrants from the sub-Saharan Africa, from where they embark on a more suicidal journey of crossing the Mediterranean Sea into Italy. Many are making this arduous journey on their own volition; spending days and nights going through dunes and mountains, violence and suffering, risking their lives in temperatures sometimes reaching 50°C. Other hazards faced by the immigrants include possible abduction by several rebel groups, i.e. the Salafist, or the marauding Touareg gangs, who often rob, and rape their victims! Increasingly, among these migrants are young girls, who are lured into this journey under the pretext that they would work either in Libya or in Italy. Sadly, these girls end up in brothels, subjected to horrible sexual abuse, until they die in the hands of their captors. A few lucky ones are rescued by the police or the Nigerian Mission in one of the transit countries. Unfortunately, for most of them life would never be the same again, as they often contract HIV/AIDS while in these brothels.’
John Oakes

Update 11th October 2014

This site gives details of the people trafficking routes to and through Libya today;
http://www.iom.int/cms/en/sites/iom/home/what-we-do/migration-policy-and-research/migration-policy-1/migration-policy-practice/issues/december-2013-january-2014/mixed-migration-into-libya-mappi.html?

Update 13th February 2015

The number of deaths on the Mediterranean crossing from Libya to Italy and Malta remains high and the number of coastguard boats devoted to migrant rescue has been reduced. This appeared in the Libya Times on 11the February 2015;

‘Just two days after 29 migrants died of hypothermia after being rescued by the Italian coast guard in the Mediterranean, International Office of Migration (IOM) and UNHCR officials say they fear that another 300 migrants have died trying to make the crossing from Libya to Italy.’

Update 20th February 2017

This from the British Guardian Newspaper makes it clear that people trafficking is brutal and flourishing in Libya:

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/feb/20/migrant-slave-trade-libya-europe

Update 28th February 2017

This should be compulsory reading for everyone with an interest in the huaman condition;

https://www.unicef.de/blob/135970/6178f12582223da6980ee1974a772c14/a-deadl-journey-for-children—unicef-report-data.pdf

 

 

 

 

 

Written by johnoakes

September 11, 2012 at 10:43 am