Posts Tagged ‘Mediterranean Sea’
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.’
Update 11th October 2014
This site gives details of the people trafficking routes to and through Libya today;
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: