The UN Security Council has imposed sanctions on six leaders of human trafficking networks operating in Libya – the first time traffickers have been put on an international sanctions list.
The blacklisted six are four Libyans, including the head of a regional coast guard unit, and two Eritrean nationals.
Smugglers have taken advantage of insecurity in Libya to move hundreds of thousands of migrants by sea to Europe.
Many migrants are trapped in detention centres and beaten by traffickers.
The sanctions – a global travel ban and an assets freeze – were the result of an internationally-backed Dutch proposal. The proposal was initially presented on 1 May but held up by Russia, which sought to examine the evidence against the six men.
The unprecedented sanctions follow widespread outrage at the end of 2017 after CNN aired footage showing the auctioning of migrant men as slaves in Libya.
The Dutch proposal came after Professor Mirjam van Reisen and Munyaradzi Mawere published the names of several human traffickers involved in criminal networking.
They concluded that: “Crimes against Humanity are ongoing in Eritrea. Human trafficking is organised from within Eritrea and the lines between human trafficking and smuggling are blurred. Refugees believe that traffickers from within Eritrea are connected to the broader network operating outside Eritrea, which involves perpetrators all along the routes. Many who flee stay within the region, but feel that they are in constant danger.”
According to Van Reisen and Mawere, the human trafficking network leading to Tripoli and the Central Mediterranean route began in 2009, when many Eritreans were abducted and held in captivity in Sinai. There they were tortured and had ransoms extorted from them by calls to relatives and friends over mobile phone.
Some have been persecuted, such as the Eritrean trafficker Medhanie Yehdego Mered, known among refugees as ‘The General’. But in a tragic mistake the wrong person was taken to court.
The real Medhanie was recently confirmed to be operating with a Ugandan passport from Kampala (news reported by The Guardian and in a Swedish documentary).
Another Eritrean trafficker said to have a central role is Angosom Teame Akolom, also known as Angosom Wajehey or Angosom Kidane.
Angosom is alleged to be a key player in human trafficking from Eritrea, including to Egypt and Sinai. He is reported to have been previously a member or the head of the Eritrean Intelligence Agency in Asmara.
Mirjam van Reisen and one of the researchers, Meron Estefanos, concluded that the trafficking networks operated with knowledge of the Eritrean regime.
In this publication, Van Reisen and Estefanos stated that: “Linked across the region between Eritrea, Ethiopia, Sudan, Egypt and Libya, the Eritrean refugees are traded as priced commodities: the most conservative estimate of the total value of the human trafficking in trade in Eritreans is over 1 billion USD.”
The researchers also conclude that the financial gains are controlled through an international web of informal financial agents operating in Asmara, Khartoum, Israel, and Libya.
An Eritrean who made the journey told the researchers:
“In Khartoum, I went to an Eritrean called Zeki. I paid 1,600 USD from Khartoum to Libya. I went to Asmara Market in Khartoum. I paid to an Eritrean man, Welid, USD 2,200 USD for the crossing on the boat. They split it, they pay the Sudan people and Libya people and they keep the rest.” (Interview by Van Reisen).
Van Reisen and Estefanos spoke to an Eritrean, named as Abderaza or Abdurazak, who has been in charge of developing the route from Eritrea to Libya since 2005 or 2006:
“The alleged head of the human trafficking organisation in Libya (..) is now a wealthy man. (..). According to various sources this Eritrean started his involvement in smuggling and human trafficking in Libya in 2005. He has residences in Libya and Dubai. Other Eritreans, working for him (..) were involved in the day-to-day organisation and collection of the payments.”
The trafficker was also identified in a report by the Horn of Africa’s regional organisation, IGAD.
The Eritrean ‘top traffickers’ work with Libyans to arrange transport and accommodation. The book identifies the role of the Eritrean embassy in Libya:
“A refugee mentioned that he saw that a representative of the Eritrean Embassy in Tripoli assisted specific refugees who had been captured by the Libyan authorities while moving across Libya to Europe (..)”.
A similar allegation was made in the IGAD report, which stated:
“Nevertheless, one NGO official based in the region for a significant amount of time alleges that some remaining diplomatic personnel profit from the irregular migration routes, by charging ‘fees’ to negotiate the release of people from detention centres. Two eyewitnesses appeared to corroborate these allegations when they reported that they have seen high-profile smugglers at the Eritrean embassy in Tripoli. “ (cited in Van Reisen and Mawere, p. 176)
Van Reisen and Estefanos conclude that: “Linked across the region between Eritrea, Ethiopia, Sudan, Egypt and Libya, the Eritrean refugees are traded as priced commodities: the most conservative estimate of the total value of the human trafficking in trade in Eritreans is over 1 billion USD.”
Eritrean refugees are trafficked by a Human Trafficking network led by these Eritrean traffickers.
This sad reality is now confirmed by the resolution adopted by the UN Security Council, which blacklists two Eritrean traffickers and 4 Libyans.
The Netherlands, currently chairing the UN Security Council, has used its role to expose the illicit Eritrean involvement abroad. Earlier the Netherlands expelled the chargé d’affaires.
The UN Security Council sanctions are the next step in tackling the exterritorial criminal engagement of the Eritrean regime.
This is an attempt to end the impunity of Eritrean traffickers: to bring them to account for torture and killing of their fellow citizens in the Horn and beyond.