Libya mili­tias take EU funds for mi­grants

Times-Herald (Vallejo) - - NEWS - By Mag­gie Michael, Lori Hin­nant and Re­nata Brito

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

That hasn’t 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 chan­neled through U.N. 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, U.N. of­fi­cials knew mili­tia net­works were get­ting the money, ac­cord­ing to in­ter­nal emails.

The mili­tias tor­ture, ex­tort and oth­er­wise abuse mi­grants for ran­soms in de­ten­tion cen­ters un­der the nose of the U.N., of­ten in com­pounds that re­ceive mil­lions in Euro­pean money, the AP in­ves­ti­ga­tion showed. Many mi­grants also sim­ply dis­ap­pear from de­ten­tion cen­ters, sold to traf­fick­ers or to other cen­ters.

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 cen­ters 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 U.N. to feed and oth­er­wise help mi­grants, who go hun­gry. For ex­am­ple, mil­lions of eu­ros in U.N. food con­tracts were un­der ne­go­ti­a­tion with a com­pany con­trolled by a mili­tia leader, even as other U.N. teams raised alarms about star­va­tion in his de­ten­tion cen­ter, ac­cord­ing to emails ob­tained by the AP and in­ter­views with at least a half-dozen Libyan of­fi­cials.

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

This story is part of an oc­ca­sional se­ries, “Out­sourc­ing Mi­grants,” pro­duced with the sup­port of the Pulitzer Cen­ter on Cri­sis Re­port­ing.

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

Aimée 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 cen­ter, she told the AP, she saw “Euro­pean Union milk” and di­a­pers de­liv­ered by U.N.staff pil­fered be­fore they could reach mi­grant chil­dren, in­clud­ing her tod­dler son. Aimée 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, Aimée said her fam­ily paid a ran­som equiv­a­lent of $670 to get her out of the cen­ter. She could not say who got the money.

RE­NATA BRITO — THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Res­cued mi­grants look at a map of Europe aboard the Ocean Vik­ing hu­man­i­tar­ian ship as it sails in the Mediter­ranean Sea.

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