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Short Stories by John Oakes

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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

Update 11th May 2017

The following report is from the UN’s International Organisation for Migration. 

Over the past weekend, IOM staff in Niger and Libya documented shocking events on North African migrant routes, which they have described as ‘slave markets’ tormenting hundreds of young African men bound for Libya.

Operations Officers with IOM’s office in Niger, reported on the rescue of a Senegalese migrant (referred to as SC to protect his identity) who this week was returning to his home after being held captive for months.

According to SC’s testimony, while trying to travel north through the Sahara, he arrived in Agadez, Niger, where he was told he would have to pay CFA200,000 (about $320) to continue north, towards Libya. A trafficker provided him with accommodation until the day of his departure, which was to be by pick-up truck.

The journey – over two days of travelling – through the desert was relatively smooth for this group. IOM has often heard from other migrants on this route who report seeing the remains of others abandoned by their drivers – and of trucks ransacked by bandits who siphon away their fuel.

SC’s fate was different. When his pick-up reached Sabha in southwestern Libya, the driver insisted that he hadn’t been paid by the trafficker, and that he was transporting the migrants to a parking area where SC witnessed a slave market taking place. “Sub-Saharan migrants were being sold and bought by Libyans, with the support of Ghanaians and Nigerians who work for them,” IOM Niger staff reported this week.

SC described being ‘bought’ and then being brought to his first ‘prison’, a private home where more than 100 migrants were held as hostages.

He said the kidnappers made the migrants call their families back home, and often suffered beatings while on the phone so that their family members could hear them being tortured. In order to be released from this first house, SC was asked to pay CFA300,000 (about $480), which he couldn’t raise. He was then ‘bought’ by another Libyan, who brought him to a bigger house – where a new price was set for his release:  CFA600,000 (about $970), to be paid via Western Union or Money Gram to someone called ‘Alhadji Balde’, said to be in Ghana.

SC managed to get some money from his family via mobile phone and then agreed to work as an interpreter for the kidnappers, to avoid further beatings. He described dreadful sanitary conditions, and food offered only once per day. Some migrants who couldn’t pay were reportedly killed, or left to starve to death.

SC told IOM that when somebody died or was released, kidnappers returned to the market to ‘buy’ more migrants to replace them. Women, too, were ‘bought’ by private individuals – Libyans, according to this witness – and brought to homes where they were forced to be sex slaves.

IOM collects information from migrants returning from Libya and passing through IOM transit centres in Niamey and Agadez. “Over the past few days, I have discussed these stories with several who told me horrible stories. They all confirmed the risks of been sold as slaves in squares or garages in Sabha, either by their drivers or by locals who recruit the migrants for daily jobs in town, often in construction, and later, instead of paying them, sell their victims to new buyers. Some migrants – mostly Nigerians, Ghanaians and Gambians – are forced to work for the kidnappers/slave traders as guards in the ransom houses or in the ‘market’ itself,” said an IOM Niger staffer.

During the past week, IOM Libya learned of other kidnapping cases, like those IOM Niger has knowledge of.

Adam* (not his real name) was kidnapped together with 25 other Gambians while traveling from Sabha to Tripoli. An armed Gambian man and two Arab men kidnapped the party and took them to a ‘prison’ where some 200 men and several women were being held.

According to this witness, the captives were from several African nations. Adam explained that captives were beaten each day and forced to call their families to pay for their release. It took nine months for Adam’s father to collect enough money for Adam’s release, after selling the family house.

Adam said the kidnappers took him to Tripoli where he was released. There, a Libyan man found him and due to his poor health condition, took him to the hospital. The hospital staff published a post on Facebook requesting assistance.

An IOM colleague saw the post and referred the case to an IOM doctor who visited him in the hospital. Adam spent 3 weeks in the hospital trying to recover from severe malnutrition – he weighed just 35 kilograms – and the physical wounds from torture.

Upon release from the hospital, IOM found a host family who sheltered him for approximately one month, while the IOM doctor and protection colleagues made frequent visits to the host family to provide Adam with food and medication and assist him with his rehabilitation. They also brought him fresh clothes.

Adam was also able to call his family in the Gambia, and after his condition stabilised, he was assisted by IOM Libya’s voluntary returns programme. On 4 April, he returned to Gambia.

The IOM doctor escorted Adam to Gambia where he was reunited with his family and immediately hospitalised. IOM Libya will continue to pay for his treatment in Gambia and he will also receive a reintegration grant.

Another case IOM learned of this month, involves a young woman being held in what she describes as a warehouse near the port in Misrata by Somalian kidnappers. She is believed to have been held captive for at least 3 months, although the exact dates are unknown.  Her husband and young son have lived in the United Kingdom since 2012, and they have been receiving demands for money.

It has been reported that this victim is subjected to rape and physical assault. The husband has paid via family and members of the Somalia community $7,500, although they have recently been told the kidnappers are demanding a second payment of $7,500.

IOM Libya was informed of this case by the UK Crisis Response and Hostage Negotiation Unit, which is currently following up on the case together with the Libyan Red Crescent (LRC), which has assisted in releases in similar cases in the past.

“The situation is dire,” said Mohammed Abdiker, IOM’s Director of Operation and Emergencies, who recently returned from a visit to Tripoli. “The more IOM engages inside Libya, the more we learn that it is a vale of tears for many migrants. Some reports are truly horrifying and the latest reports of ‘slave markets’ for migrants can be added to a long list of outrages.”

Abdiker added that in recent months IOM staff in Libya had gained access to several detention centres, where they are trying to improve conditions. “What we know is that migrants who fall into the hands of smugglers face systematic malnutrition, sexual abuse and even murder. Last year we learned 14 migrants died in a single month in one of those locations, just from disease and malnutrition. We are hearing about mass graves in the desert.”

He said so far this year the Libyan Coast Guard and others have found 171 bodies washed up on Mediterranean shores, from migrant voyages that foundered off shore. The Coast Guard has also rescued thousands more, he added.

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

Doyle added: “To get the message out across Africa about the dangers, we are recording the testimonies of migrants who have suffered and are spreading them across social media and on local FM radio. Tragically the most credible messengers are migrants returning home with IOM help. Too often they are broken, brutalised and have been abused, often sexually. Their voices carry more weight than anyone else’s.”

LIBYA – CAN LIBYA’S NEIGHBOURS REMAIN ON THE SIDELINES MUCH LONGER?

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 Cairo’s Asharq Al-Awsat dated 4th August states ‘Veteran Egyptian politician and former Arab League chief, Amr Moussa, called for a public debate in Egypt on the possibility of using military force against Islamist extremists in Libya on Sunday. Moussa issued a statement over the weekend saying that Egypt’s “right to self-defence” against extremists in Benghazi and eastern Libya should be considered, as the situation in the country was a cause of great concern for Egypt and other neighbouring states’.
Libya is in a parlous state and her neighbours and allies are deeply concerned for the stability of the region. The insipient civil war is leading to fears that a connection between Libyan Islamists and ISIS in Iraq, Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, Al Shabaab in Somalia and Kenya and Boko Haram in Nigeria is a likely and undesirable outcome. Here are some short notes on the state of play as of 2nd August 2014.

IN LIBYA

Tobruk
A large majority of the newly elected House of Representatives has arrived in the city. (Notably absent are the Representatives from Misrata). The House intends to meet on Monday for the first time in the Dar es Salaam Hotel despite the efforts of a rump of the now discredited General National Congress to deny it legitimacy. The Libya Prime Minister is present with some of his cabinet as is the Army Chief of Staff.
Derna
The city is in the hands of the Islamist Ansar Sharia militia and its allies who have declared that it is now an Islamic Emirate. It was impossible to hold elections for the Libyan House of Representatives in the city which is now out of control. Ansar Sharia and its allies have been receiving weapons by sea from Misrata.
Benghazi
The battle for Benghazi, Operation Dignity, has taken an alarming turn. The Libyan Army’s Special Forces operating against the Islamists under the overall command of Major General Hafter have been forced to abandon Camp Thunderbolt in Benghazi and are in tactical retreat from the city. It is reported today as being at Benina Airport. The leaders of Ansar Sharia and its allies have posed in triumph at the gates of Camp Thunderbolt and declared that the city is now an Islamic Emirate. However, a large demonstration of citizens gathered in the city after Friday morning prayers demanding the removal of Ansar Sharia and Libya Shield militias and the return of law and order.
Operation Dignity has taken a drubbing. Its leader, Major General Khalifa Hafter, is consistently called a renegade by the media and also by some expert western observers. Since I am neither of the media nor likely to be an expert I risk a considerable drubbing myself from some quarters when I suggest that Hafter is not a renegade. He might well be arrogant and smell a little of the CIA but it is clearly time for Libya’s government to decide what to do about him. At the moment he looks like the only man courageous enough to face down the Islamists. There are unsubstantiated rumours of a rift between Hafter and his top commanders.
Efforts during the past few days by a Council of Tribal Elders may have arranged a truce but there were explosions in the city this morning.
Misrata
This is Libya’s third largest city and it was badly mauled during the 2011 ‘ousting’ of Gaddafi. It has established itself as a near autonomous city state and Islamist powerhouse. The Misratan Union of Revolutionaries oversees some 200 militias and has 800 tanks and more than 2,000 ‘Technicals’ at its disposal. It has despatched its forces to Tripoli and is attempting to limit, or suppress, the power of the elected House of Representatives. Its own elected Representatives are notably absent from todays gathering in Tobruk.
Tripoli
Tripoli is in the grips of a war between Islamist leaning Libya Shield Central forces from the city of Misrata and two major Zintani militias loosely associated with Operation Dignity. The Zintanis in Tripoli comprises the Al Quaaqa Brigade and the Al Sawaiq Brigade both of which recruit men who come mainly from Tripoli who have connections with Zintan and the Jebel Nefusa in Libya’s south west. It is noted here that the Zintan Military Council oversees around 23 militias from the western mountains.
Battle has raged for some days around Tripoli’s International Airport. The key air traffic control unit has been destroyed and an Airbus damaged beyond repair. Tanks in the Brega oil storage depot on the road from Tripoli to the airport have been set alight.
The near total breakdown of security has forced embassies to close. The British ambassador left for Tunis today. Only and Italian and Maltese diplomatic staff remain in post as of today.
Amidst the chaos in Tripoli Sami Zaptia has just written this for the Libya Herald: ‘Both the outgoing GNC and the Caretaker government of Abdullah Thinni seem impotent to do anything to stop the paralysis, terror and destruction of Tripoli which continues to suffer rotational electricity cuts leading to internet cuts, as well as cooking gas and petrol and diesel shortages’.

Kufra
An interesting alliance between old enemies, the Arab Sway tribe and the Tebu, has been formed recently and they may join forces on the side of Khalifa Hafter against the Islamists.

LIBYA’S NEIGHBOURS

Tunisia
One side effect is that the Tunisians have been inundated by some 5,000 to 6,000 refugees per day fleeing the warfare, most of whom are Libyans but there are a number of Egyptians and Tunisians amongst them. The Tunisian government protests that it cannot cope much longer with the refugee crisis and has today closed its border with Libya.

In addition – according to the International Crisis Group’s Middle East and North Africa Report No. 148 – ‘the aftermath of the Tunisian uprising and of the Libyan war has provoked a reorganisation of contraband cartels (commercial at the Algerian border, tribal at the Libyan border), thereby weakening state control and paving the way for far more dangerous types of trafficking.

Added to the mix is the fact that criminality and radical Islamism gradually are intermingling in the suburbs of major cities and in poor peripheral villages. Over time, the emergence of a so-called islamo-gangsterism could contribute to the rise of groups blending jihadism and organised crime within contraband networks operating at the borders – or, worse, to active cooperation between cartels and jihadis’.

Egypt
Arms and drug smuggling across the southern border between Libya and Egypt has accelerated and is difficult to control. The slim possibility that the Misratans may have captured aircraft from Tripoli International Airport which they indent to use as suicide weapons against Egypt was apparently mooted in Cairo and Egypt’s air traffic controllers have been put on alert for aircraft entering their airspace without flight plans. This is an unlikely outcome but the Egyptian reaction demonstrates the raised level of anxiety amongst Libya’s neighbours.
The Egyptians are fighting Islamic militates in Sinai which, they fear, will make common cause with Libyan Islamists should the latter gain the upper hand. It is noted the Muslim Brotherhood is designated a terrorist group in Egypt. The presence of Jihadists in Libya is, therefore, alarming the Egyptian security services.

Algeria
There are strong indications that the sometime Al Qaeda ‘Emir of the Sahel’, Mokhtar Belmokhtar, has moved his headquarters into lawless southern Libya near the Algerian border. He is a notorious smuggler, arms trafficker, hostage taker and opportunistic Islamist. He is a Chaamba Arab and has mounted high profile attacks on petroleum installations in Algeria.
Mali
Mali is troubled with a potential breakaway Tuareg state in it’s arid north. The unrest is a magnet for Al Qaeda and instability in neighbouring Libya exacerbates the problem, not least because of the flow of illegal arms from Gaddafi’s huge stockpiles.
Niger
Niger’s long borders with Libya are porous and dangerous. The Tebu militias are the only control in the region and they are likely to be engaged in subsistence smuggling. The presence of Mokhtar Belmokhtar in Libya is disturbing the government of Niger. He led an attack on Niger’s uranium mining facilities recently.
Nigeria and Kenya
Both are troubled by Islamists; Boko Haram in Nigeria and Al Shabaab in Kenya. Should Libya become an Islamist Emirate both countries would see an increase in terrorism which would find ready support and shelter there.
The African Union
The AU has expressed its unease to the Libyans. The Islamist threat to sub Saharan Africa is growing. Drug, arms and people smuggling is facilitated by Libya’s anarchy and consequent lack of control over vast regions of the Sahara and the Libyan Desert.
John Oakes
2nd August 2014

UPDATE 4th August 2014
Even now the rump of Libya’s General National Congress is attempting to deprive the newly formed House of Representatives of its legitimacy by insisting that the handover of powers is to be in Tripoli. Representatives are gathered 1,000 kilometres away in the eastern city of Tobruk for their inaugural meeting today. The near total breakdown of security in Libya has rendered travel by air very difficult indeed. Many Representatives have travelled to Tobruk by road. I have driven from Tripoli to Tobruk and it was not easy, especially in August.
What lies behind this brinkmanship? Is it so that the Islamist can claim the House of Representatives has no legal powers to legislate if there is no handover ceremony? Is the outgoing head of the GNC playing for time so that the Islamist militias can consolidate their grip on the main cities? Whatever the reason it poses great dangers for Libya and the region.
The GNC has hitherto claimed that it, and not the Prime Minister, is in command of the Libya armed forces. In this way it can claim that the Islamist militias are legitimate member of Libya’s armed forces. The Chief of Staff is in Tobruk at the moment. What advice will he give to the House of Representatives? It looks like showdown time.

Update 4th August 2014

The latest news is the GNC has recognised its own demise and ceded power to the House of Representatives without a ‘hand over’ ceremony.

Update 5th August 2014
This has just appeared in the Libya Herald. Note that the Justice and Construction Party is the ‘political arm’ of the Muslim Brotherhood.
‘The political department of the Justice and Construction Party has likewise said in a statement that because it had not received power at a ceremony organised to occur yesterday in the capital, the House of Representatives did not have the authority to operate.’
Follow events from the GNC point of view……www.facebook.com/LibyanGNC
John Oakes
4th August 2014

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 3rd August 2014

A good survey of the opposing forces within Libya;

http://www.aawsat.net/2014/08/article55334952

Update 8th August 2104

This piece by a prestigious journalist argues for Egyptian intervention in Libya;

Update 18th August 2014

From The Libya Herald today

‘In a dramatic overnight development in the conflict in Tripoli between Misrata-led Operation Libya Dawn forces and those from Zintan, the Warshefana and their allies, positions held by the former at Mitiga Airbase and Wadi Rabia have been bombed. The government has confirmed the attack, noting in a statement that two “unidentified” aircraft had been involved……..This afternoon [Air Force Brigadier-General Saqr Adam Geroushi, the commander of Operation Dignity’s  Air Force] told the Libya Herald  that a Sukhoi 24, under his control but provided by a foreign air force, which he would not name,  had been in action in Tripoli “to protect civilians”.’

I note that the Algerian Air Force has 34 SU-24MKs. Algeria has been contemplating intervention in Libya since May this year. The Algerian military establishment has been in favour of intervention but the politicians have been cautious.

Update 19th August 2014

One of the bombs used with precision in the air to ground attack on the Misratan Grads and howitzers in Tripoli is said by someone to have been a US made type 83 general purpose bomb. This type of bomb is ‘typically’ used together with a precision guidance package by the US Navy. It is not listed, as far as I know, amongst the armaments in use by the Algerian Air Force. The accuracy of the bombing clearly indicates a high level of aircrew training and that the target coordinates were given by observers on the ground. It would only be possible for well equipped air force to carry out a raid on Tripoli which might have involved in-flight refuelling. Carrier based aircraft could, of course, be brought into range.

No doubt more reliable information will emerge soon.

An AP report carried by the Huffington Post indicates that the attack was made at night and may have been carried out ‘to protect civilians’ and in response to a request made by Libya’s new House of Representatives.

Update 24th August 2014

A further strike early Saturday morning by ‘foreign’ warplanes on Misratan positions around Tripoli has been reported by the Libya Herald, Reuters, the British Sunday Telegraph and others.

‘Fajr Libya [The Misratans] on Saturday accused the United Arab Emirates and Egypt of involvement in the Friday night air raid and an earlier strike when two unidentified aircraft bombarded Islamist positions on Monday night.

“The Emirates and Egypt are involved in this cowardly aggression,” the coalition said in a statement read out to Libyan journalists in Tripoli.’

So far, Italy, Egypt and Algeria have denied armed intervention in Libya’s internecine battles.

 

THE LIBYAN CIVIL WAR – SOME CONSEQUENCES FOR CHILDREN

with one comment

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.

WILL PRESIDENT OBAMA BE FORCED INTO A ‘SHOW OF STRENGTH’ IN LIBYA?

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As President Obama strives for re-election, pressures may be mounting on him to strike at those who killed the US ambassador and his colleagues in Benghazi on 11th September. The process of identifying and selecting the possible assassins in Libya is well advanced. The President’s reactions in this matter will be guided by public opinion at home as well as by strategic imperatives. To allow the killer of one of his ambassadors to go unpunished will have both domestic and international repercussions. Whatever the outcome, the killing of Ambassador Stevens will change the way US diplomats conduct their business abroad and security considerations will limit their effectiveness.
There is no shortage of those who suggest that the USA has lost influence in Africa as a result of President Obama’s weakness. There are indications, for example, that the Egyptian army is ‘retiring’ many officers suspected of being too close to the USA. The al Qaeda led destabilisation of Mali is likely to affect Niger, Chad, Burkina Faso and Mauritania. The tension between the Muslim north and the Christian south of Nigeria will open up many opportunities for the promoters of violence, notably the al Qaeda franchise Boko Haram.
The US policy in Libya must be seen in the wider context. ‘Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb’, now in de facto control of much of Mali, has been seeking a foothold in Libya and has found friends in the Salafist ‘Ansar al Sharia’ militia brigade in Benghazi and Derna. The US has long been interested in Derna, the seaport some miles to the east of Benghazi, where a number of young men were recruited to fight with the Taliban in Afghanistan and some have been returned to Libya by way of Guantanamo.
One Derna resident in particular has a most interesting profile according to Wikileaks. He is Abu Sufian Ibrahim Ahmed Hamuda Bin Qumu who was a prisoner in Guantanamo Bay for six years. He was a member of the ‘Libyan Islamic Fighting Group’ and later trained in an al Qaeda camp in Afghanistan and fought there as a commander of Arab volunteers. When in 2007 the Guantanamo Bay issue became and embarrassment to the Obama administration Bin Qumu was released and returned to Libya where the Gadaffi regime agreed to keep him in prison. However, in 2010 he was released from the notorious Abu Salim jail as part of an amnesty for anti-regime prisoners. He is one of founders of the ‘Ansar al Sharia’ militia in Derna and Benghazi and it is this group which is suspected of the attack on the US embassy on 11th September. A 30,000 strong street protest in Benghazi led to the disbandment of ‘Ansar al Sharia’ but there have recently been a series armed attacks in Benghazi which indicate that many militiamen have gone to ground, taking their arms and ammunition with them.
The investigation which followed the killings on 11th September is not yet complete but an interesting hypothesis is developing along the following lines. Soon after the civil war in Libya got underway the US established a CIA post in an annex near the US embassy in Benghazi. From here signals traffic between Libyan suspects and al Qaeda units were monitored. It is probable that the location and function of this annex became known to the Ansar al Sharia militia. It is also supposed, on good grounds, that this militia was recruited by ‘Al Qaeda in the Arab Maghreb’.
It is argued that ‘Ansar al Sharia’ made a plan to attack the embassy and the annex which were surrounded by high walls and guarded by some US security specialists and some locally employed contract personnel. The plan was left ‘on the vine’ to await an opportune moment for its execution.
That came on 11th September when angry crowds demonstrated outside the US embassy against a now notorious and ill-conceived anti-Islamic video. Ambassador Stevens was also visiting the embassy on 11th September, apparently to interview a Lebanese contractor. Did Ansar al Sharia have foreknowledge of the ambassador’s presence in Benghazi?
When the protest started outside the embassy ‘Ansar al Sharia’ militiamen launched their attack. They were appropriately armed and used mortars to lob bombs over the high walls. The nature of the attack in which weapons were used skilfully means that experienced fighters were involved. It was well planned operation which took the form of two assaults, the first on the embassy and the second on the so called annex situated about half a mile distant.
US drones launched above Benghazi and Derna soon after the attack picked up telecoms between ‘Ansar al Sharia’ operatives in Benghazi and known al Qaeda units. It is, therefore, likely that the attackers were linked with ‘Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb’. Among the American personnel evacuated from Benghazi after the attack were about a dozen C.I.A. operatives and contractors whose presence may have been betrayed to ‘Ansar al Sharia’. There are few foreigners in Benghazi at the moment and the presence of so many Americans must have been obvious. It is has always been a city where news spreads rapidly by word of mouth. Unless the US personnel lived without locally employed domestic servants their lives would have been subject to the closest scrutiny.
President Obama will have a number of options to consider. He has, however, made it clear that the US will punish the killer of Ambassador Stevens and his colleagues. What will he do?

LIBYA’S POROUS SOUTHERN BORDERS AND THE ILLICIT TRADE IN WEAPONS, DRUGS AND PEOPLE (UPDATED 20th FEBRUARY MARCH 2017)

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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:

http://www.libyaherald.com/2012/11/05/ten-europe-bound-migrants-perish-off-libyan-coast/

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:
http://www.aljazeera.com/news/africa/2012/12/20121216201619436647.html

Update 28th December 2912
This is an excellent survey in the Libya Herald:
http://www.libyaherald.com/2012/12/23/libyas-south-migrants-journeys/

Updated 3rd February 2013

The illegal immigrant centre in Benghazi attacked. Some details of the treatment of inmates who test HIV positive;
http://www.libyaherald.com/2013/02/03/benghazi-detention-centre-attacked/

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.

http://www.libyaherald.com/2013/06/23/illegal-emigrant-figures-exaggerated-zeidan/

However, it seems that some migrants are getting through and that there are still people traffickers operating in Kufra:
http://www.sudantribune.com/spip.php?article46800

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!
http://www.libyaherald.com/2013/07/09/a-birth-and-three-deaths-on-stranded-migrant-dinghy/

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.

http://www.libyaherald.com/2013/07/12/malta-bins-plans-to-fly-arriving-migrants-straight-back-to-libya/

http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20130710/local/202-more-migrants-heading-for-malta.477411

http://www.unhcr.org/51d6b8a56.html

Update 8th August 2013

More illegal migrants are drowned as the tragedy of people trafficking across the Mediterranean from Libya continues:

http://www.aljazeera.com/news/europe/2013/08/20138813638173281.html

Update 27th August 2013
This report that foreign troops have crossed Libya’s southern border somewhere may prove interesting;

tp://www.libyaherald.com/2013/08/27/no-foreign-troops-traversing-libyan-borders-zeidan/

Update 30 November 2013

This report and video from Al Jazeera brings the story up to date dramatically:
http://www.aljazeera.com/programmes/aljazeeraworld/2013/11/dangerous-waters-20131118121229693854.html

Updated 2nd February 2014

Essential reading…..
http://www.usip.org/publications/illicit-trafficking-and-libya-s-transition-profits-and-losses

Update 21st March 2014

The dreadful sea journey from Libya to Malta and Italy is still taking its toll;

http://www.aawsat.net/2014/03/article55330299

Update 20th February 2017

It is clear from this piece in Britain’s Guardian newspaper that people trafficking is brutal and cruel.

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

 

 

 

John Oakes

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

LIBYA – GADDAFI’S AFRICAN LEGACY AND NIGERIA (UPDATED 2ND AUGUST 2013)

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Western intervention, ostensibly to help the citizens of Benghazi who had mounted the ‘17th February 2011’ rebellion against Muammar Gaddafi, soon turned into an exercise in regime change which crucially upset Vladimir Putin and influenced his response to the Syrian crisis.
Libya has since held its first peaceful and successful elections for sixty years. The elections were as nearly democratic as might be expected in country so long without a civic society but the problems facing the new government are manifold and difficult. The presence of powerful armed militias, the imprisonment and alleged torture of black African workers from Mali, Niger and other sub-Saharan countries, the cessationist movements in eastern Libya and the damaging rumours of corruption together threaten the emergence of a strong central democratic government.
One effect of the massive military intervention by the western nations (and Qatar) was the near destruction of the Libyan Army leaving no force able to control or absorb the proliferating militias. Realists now recognise that the destruction of the Iraqi army and civil service after the removal of Saddam Hussein resulted in serious loss of lives and civic disorder. The dangers of similar period of havoc in Libya cannot be dismissed easily.

The effect of Gadaffi’s demise on Mali, Niger, Chad and Burkina Faso draws little attention from the mainstream press. It should not be thus. Hidden amongst these impoverished and divided countries lie problems for oil rich Nigeria, a country struggling to reconcile its more populous Muslim north with its oil rich Christian south. There is growing unease, notably in the USA, about the current state of affairs in Nigeria, a country which some pundits are saying is ripe for Balkanisation.
Gaddafi himself, as President of the African Union, called for the division of Nigeria into two states; a Muslim north and a Christian south. Gaddafi was ever simplistic and naive in his meddlesome interventions in the politics of other countries.
The dangers for Nigeria lie in the destabilisation of Mali, already partially accomplished by the al Qaeda franchise Ansar Dine and the potential destabilisation of Niger threatened by a restive Tuareg population strengthened by returning Gaddafi mercenaries. Both these countries have porous borders with Nigeria’s impoverished and restive north in which a further al Qaeda franchise, Boko Harem, has established a foothold. It is exploiting the endemic unrest, harsh military rule and police corruption.
‘Boko Haram’ is the local name for the ‘People Committed to the Propagation of the Prophet’s Teachings and Jihad’ (Jama’atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda’awati Wal-Jihad). It is led by Abubakar Muhammad Shekau and said to number 3,000 fighters. It is based in north east Nigeria conveniently close to the Niger and Mali borders and where people feel ignored by the predominantly Christian government led by Goodluck Jonathan.
As Professor Jean Herskovits wrote in the New York Times on 12th January 2012 ‘……..Meanwhile, Boko Haram has evolved into a franchise that includes criminal groups claiming its identity. Revealingly, Nigeria’s State Security Services issued a statement on Nov. 30 [2011], identifying members of four “criminal syndicates” that send threatening text messages in the name of Boko Haram. Southern Nigerians — not northern Muslims — ran three of these four syndicates, including the one that led the American Embassy and other foreign missions to issue warnings that emptied Abuja’s high-end hotels. And last week, the security services arrested a Christian southerner wearing northern Muslim garb as he set fire to a church in the Niger Delta. In Nigeria, religious terrorism is not always what it seems…………’
This volatile situation has been further intensified by the arrival of arms in Nigeria, looted from Gaddafi’s extensive armouries in the aftermath of his demise. Nigeria’s Minister of State for defence, Mrs Olasula Obada, speaking in Abuja, said recently ‘Today in Nigeria, we are at peace with our neighbours and do not face any external threats…..However, we are aware that since the end of the Libyan war, some weapons made their way down south and [into] Nigeria. Nevertheless, today in Nigeria, we do face serious internal threats, but we do hope that the threats will be reduced to the barest minimum.”
The United Sates is becoming interested. Ambassador Johnnie Carson, the US Assistant Secretary on African Issues has stated; “Over the past year, Boko Haram has created widespread insecurity across northern Nigeria, inflamed tensions between various communities, disrupted development activities, and frightened off investors. The near daily spate of bombings and attacks that have claimed the lives of thousands of Nigerians is unacceptable, and the United States strongly condemns this violence”
We should note that Ansar Dine in Mali has been ‘absorbed by AQIM (al-Qaeda in Islamic Maghreb). This is possibly one of the richest al Qaeda franchises having profited greatly from kidnapping, smuggling and other illegal activities. The core members of Boko Haram were trained by AQIM.
A pessimistic view, and one which is becoming increasingly common amongst observes, is that an absorption of Ansar Dine in Mali and Boko Haram in north eastern Nigeria by AQIM might create a new focus for al Qaeda operations and their attendant lawlessness in the bad lands south of Algeria and Libya with the dangerous destabilisation of Nigeria as one of its consequences.
Strangely the ‘Gaddafist’ blog ‘Libya360’ appears to suggest that Boko Haram is a child of the CIA and the US Africa Command (AFRICOM); an interpretation which illustrates the strange twists and turns matters are now taking in sub-Saharan Africa.

Update 1st November 2012

See Amnesty International’s report;http://www.amnesty.org/en/library/asset/AFR44/043/2012/en/04ab8b67-8969-4c86-bdea-0f82059dff28/afr440432012en.pdf

Update 11th February 2013

Reports of Boko Haram terrorists training in Mali

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/africaandindianocean/mali/9860822/Timbuktu-al-Qaedas-terrorist-training-academy-in-the-Mali-desert.html

Update 9th March 2013

A disturbing killing of a British captive.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/africaandindianocean/nigeria/9919656/Nigerian-militants-kill-seven-hostages-including-Briton.html

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/africaandindianocean/nigeria/9920655/British-hostage-killed-because-kidnappers-thought-UK-was-launching-rescue-mission.html

Update 2nd August 2013

This in al Jazeera today shows that Boko Haram has developed a new strategy in northern Nigeria. It is killing school teachers.

http://www.aljazeera.com/news/africa/2013/08/201381194058468813.html

Update 12th August 2013

A valuable compilation of articles about Boko Haram in the British Guardian newspaper:

http://www.theguardian.com/world/boko-haram

Update 25th August 2013

Further violence is reported in this today. The possible death of Abubakar Shekau between July 25 and Aug. 4 from gunshot wounds inflicted in a gun battle with security forces is raised here also.

http://www.aawsat.net/2013/08/article55314677