Libya mili­tias rake in mil­lions in Euro­pean mi­gra­tion

The Punch - - WORLD -

IN an As­so­ci­ated Press in­ves­ti­ga­tion, mi­grants re­count or­deals in Eu-funded de­ten­tion cen­tres run by hu­man traf­fick­ers.

When the Euro­pean Union started fun­nelling mil­lions of eu­ros into Libya to slow the tide of mi­grants cross­ing the Mediter­ranean, the money came with EU prom­ises to im­prove de­ten­tion cen­tres no­to­ri­ous for abuse and fight hu­man traf­fick­ing.

Al Jazeera re­ports that has not hap­pened. In­stead, the mis­ery of mi­grants in Libya has spawned a thriv­ing and highly lu­cra­tive web of busi­nesses funded in part by the EU and en­abled by the United Na­tions, an As­so­ci­ated Press in­ves­ti­ga­tion has found.

The EU has sent more than 327.9 mil­lion eu­ros to Libya, with an ad­di­tional 41 mil­lion ap­proved in early De­cem­ber, largely fun­nelled through UN agen­cies. The AP found that in a coun­try with­out a func­tion­ing govern­ment, huge sums of Euro­pean money have been di­verted to in­ter­twined net­works of mili­ti­a­men, traf­fick­ers and coast guard mem­bers who ex­ploit mi­grants.

In some cases, UN of­fi­cials knew mili­tia net­works were get­ting the money, ac­cord­ing to in­ter­nal emails.

The mili­tias tor­ture, ex­tort and oth­er­wise abuse mi­grants for ran­soms in de­ten­tion cen­tres un­der the nose of the UN, of­ten in com­pounds that re­ceive mil­lions in Euro­pean money, the in­ves­ti­ga­tion showed.

Many mi­grants also sim­ply dis­ap­pear from de­ten­tion cen­ters, sold to traf­fick­ers or to other cen­tres.

The same mili­tias con­spire with some mem­bers of Libyan coast guard units. The coast guard gets train­ing and equip­ment from Europe to keep mi­grants away from its shores. But coast guard mem­bers re­turn some mi­grants to the de­ten­tion cen­tres un­der deals with mili­tias, the AP found, and re­ceive bribes to let oth­ers pass en route to Europe.

The mili­tias in­volved in abuse and traf­fick­ing also skim off Euro­pean funds given through the UN to feed and oth­er­wise help mi­grants, who go hun­gry. For ex­am­ple, mil­lions of eu­ros in UN food con­tracts were un­der ne­go­ti­a­tion with a com­pany con­trolled by a mili­tia leader, even as other UN teams raised alarms about star­va­tion in his de­ten­tion cen­tre, ac­cord­ing to emails ob­tained by the AP and in­ter­views with at least a half­dozen Libyan of­fi­cials.

In many cases, the money goes to neigh­bour­ing Tu­nisia to be laun­dered, and then flows back to the mili­tias in Libya.

The story of Pru­dence Aimee and her fam­ily shows how mi­grants are ex­ploited at ev­ery stage of their jour­ney through Libya.

Aimee left Cameroon in 2015, and when her fam­ily heard noth­ing from her for a year, they thought she was dead. But she was in de­ten­tion and in­com­mu­ni­cado. In nine months at the Abu Salim de­ten­tion cen­tre, she told the AP she saw “Euro­pean Union milk” and nap­pies de­liv­ered by UN staff pil­fered be­fore they could reach mi­grant chil­dren, in­clud­ing her tod­dler son. Aimee her­self would spend two days at a time with­out food or drink, she said.

In 2017, an Arab man came look­ing for her with a photo of her on his phone.

“They called my fam­ily and told them they had found me,” she said. “That’s when my fam­ily sent money.” Weep­ing, Aimee said her fam­ily paid a ran­som equiv­a­lent of $670 to get her out of the cen­tre. She could not say who got the money.

She was moved to an in­for­mal ware­house and even­tu­ally sold to yet an­other de­ten­tion cen­tre, where yet an­other ran­som - $750 this time - had to be raised from her fam­ily. Her cap­tors fi­nally re­leased the young mother, who got on a boat that made it past the coast guard pa­trol, af­ter her hus­band paid $850 for the pas­sage.

A Euro­pean hu­man­i­tar­ian ship res­cued Aimee, but her hus­band re­mains in Libya.

Aimee was one of more than 50 mi­grants in­ter­viewed by the AP at sea, in Europe, Tu­nisia and Rwanda, and in furtive mes­sages from in­side de­ten­tion cen­tres in Libya. Jour­nal­ists also spoke with Libyan govern­ment of­fi­cials, aid work­ers and busi­ness­men in Tripoli, ob­tained in­ter­nal UN emails and an­a­lysed bud­get doc­u­ments and con­tracts.

The is­sue of mi­gra­tion has con­vulsed Europe since the in­flux in 2015 and 2016 of more than a mil­lion peo­ple fleeing vi­o­lence and poverty in the Mid­dle East, Afghanista­n and Africa. In 2015, the Euro­pean

Union set up a fund in­tended to curb mi­gra­tion from Africa, from which money is sent to Libya. The EU gives the money mainly through the UN’S In­ter­na­tional or­ga­ni­za­tion for Mi­gra­tion (IOM) and the High Com­mis­sioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

But Libya is plagued by cor­rup­tion and caught in a civil war. The coun­try’s west, in­clud­ing the cap­i­tal Tripoli, is ruled by a Un-bro­kered govern­ment, while the east is ruled by an­other govern­ment sup­ported by army com­man­der Khal­ifa Haf­tar. The chaos is ideal for prof­i­teers mak­ing money off mi­grants.

The EU’S own doc­u­ments show it was aware of the dan­gers of ef­fec­tively out­sourc­ing its mi­gra­tion cri­sis to Libya. Bud­get doc­u­ments from as early as 2017 for a 90-mil­lion-euro out­lay warned of a medium to high risk that Europe’s sup­port would lead to more hu­man rights vi­o­la­tions against mi­grants, and that the Libyan govern­ment would deny ac­cess to de­ten­tion cen­tres.

A re­cent EU as­sess­ment found the world was likely to get the “wrong per­cep­tion” that Euro­pean money could be seen as sup­port­ing abuse.

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