Road to European Dream Paved by Extortion and Exploitation

Mit Al Korama’s youth (left) spent five months at the warehouse waiting for the trip to Italy (Ahmed Emad is in the middle and Ibrahim Abdullah is on the left). The group (right) during their kidnapping ordeal by Libyan militias. The group were waiting for the ransom to be paid. Credit: Supplied
  • by Hisham Allam (cairo, egypt)
  • Inter Press Service

Some, they heard, returned with a large sum of money and built European-style homes for their families. Others chose to stay in the European Union and encouraged their brothers to do so.

A young man in his thirties from Talkha named “Mohamed Fakih” was among the group, and he said he assisted many people illegally migrating to the Italian coasts.

Despite the Egyptian government’s warnings against illegal immigration and not visiting Libya, some young people continue to attempt to migrate illegally to Italy via Libya. Egyptian and Libyan smugglers put them at risk of drowning or kidnapping by gangs and armed militias demanding ransoms.

Fakih informed the Mit Al Korama youth that spots on a boat leaving for Italy in ten days were available. That spot could be theirs if they paid him 5000 US dollars.

Ahmed Emad, a 27-year-old with a diploma in tourism and hotels but no job, was one of five young people from the village keen on seeking a better life in Europe. To fund this trip to Italy, his family sold everything they owned and borrowed the rest.

“The mediator directed us to the Egyptian-Libyan border city of Salloum, where we met a group of smugglers who assisted us in crossing the border through mountain roads and out of sight of border guards. We arrived in Al-Masad, Libya,” Emad told IPS. “The smugglers began to treat us differently there.”

“As soon as we arrived, they pushed us into a huge building full of smuggled goods, fuel, sheep and cows, and people like us waiting for their turn to emigrate,” Emad added.

The smugglers never stopped abusing and insulting the immigrants in the warehouse. When they complained to Fakih, the mediator who had taken their money, he advised them to wait patiently until the boat arrived to take the group to their final destination.

“We were held captive in the warehouse for five and a half months, sleeping in the cow barn, drinking from empty gasoline containers, and eating only one meal per day,” Emad added.

Emad Eldanaf, his father, said they had no contact with the smugglers in Libya and were initially unable to reach the young men, making them highly anxious. Finally, contact was made.

“There were 28 men from our village on the boat. The most recent group returned in the last two weeks, and we’re still negotiating with the militia about the remaining three,” Eldanaf told IPS.

Emad’s experiences were mirrored by Ibrahim Abdullah and his younger brother Kamal.

“We moved between several warehouses between Sabratha and Zuwara – 120 km west of Tripoli. On the eve of November 9, they told us we would sail from the Ajilat coast to Italy in hours,” Abdullah told IPS.

“Eventually, we all moved to the boat, about 50 of us.”

The boat set sail at 11 pm.

“By dawn, water was seeping into the boat. We tried to drain the water until we became frustrated,” Abdullah explained. “Death was only a few feet away.”

According to Abdullah, the immigrants requested assistance from the Italian authorities, who said they would wait until the boat was closer to the Italian coast before intervening.

Tunisian authorities also ignored them. It was evident that they would sink with the boat and perish.

“We knew calling the Libyans would get us arrested, but we went ahead and did it anyway,” Abdullah said, explaining their desperation.

“At noon, Libyan militia troops captured us and transported us to Tripoli port, splitting us into two groups, one sent to Prison 55 and the other in Bir Al Ghanam prison.

Bir al-Ghanam is a town in western Libya, located south of Zawiya. It was the site of several battles during the Libyan Civil War. Anti-Gaddafi forces took control of it on August 7, 2011, just weeks before taking Tripoli.

“We were referred to as ‘the goods’ by Libyan militias. They made us wish for death to be free of this agony. My father agreed to pay the ransom for our release after I pleaded with him,” Abdullah recalls. “When the militias suspected that some families would not pay the ransom, they killed the detainees and threw their bodies in the desert. Two members of my group died and were thrown into the desert without being buried.”

Emad, Kamal, and Abdullah remained with their militia for another four months. Lice and scabies were their lieutenants the entire time. Finally, their family reached an agreement with the kidnappers, agreeing to pay US dollars 6000 for Kamal and Abdullah, while Emad’s family had to pay US dollars 5000 to free him.

Haj Riad, a Libyan smuggler, acted as the middleman in the ransom payment. The money was transferred to several Libyan bank accounts, where he distributed it to militias and transported the three young men back to the Egyptian border.

Umm Ayman, a 60-year-old mother, sold a few of her land carats to raise 150,000 Egyptian Pounds (10,000 US dollars) to assist her two sons with their travels. Two of her three sons were then kidnapped with Emad and Abdullah.

A few months later, she had to sell her house, sheep, a cow, and the rest of her belongings, to pay US dollars 13,000 to have them back.

“We sold everything we owned to allow our children to travel, and we borrowed to bring them back. Even my mother’s gold earrings had to be sold to pay the ransom,” Ayman told IPS.

“When my children returned by the end of January, they sought out Fakih, the mediator, and found he had fled with his family.”

The family believes he continues to entrap victims into the vicious circle as young people try to seek a better life in Europe.

A Son’s Desperate Plea to his Father

“I beg you, father, get us out of here; my friend Muhammad Misbah is in good health, and I was on the verge of death yesterday. Do whatever it takes to get us out of here; pay the ransom, whatever it takes. You and Ibrahim’s mother try to do anything. We are so insulted here; our bodies are weak and sick. – An audio message from Ahmed Emad to his father.

This article is part of a series of features from across the globe on human trafficking. IPS coverage is supported by the Airways Aviation Group.
The Global Sustainability Network ( GSN ) is pursuing the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal number 8 with a special emphasis on Goal 8.7, which “takes immediate and effective measures to eradicate forced labour, end modern slavery and human trafficking and secure the prohibition and elimination of the worst forms of child labour, including recruitment and use of child soldiers, and by 2025 end child labour in all its forms”.
The origins of the GSN come from the endeavours of the Joint Declaration of Religious Leaders signed on 2 December 2014. Religious leaders of various faiths gathered to work together “to defend the dignity and freedom of the human being against the extreme forms of the globalization of indifference, such as exploitation, forced labour, prostitution, human trafficking”.

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© Inter Press Service (2022) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service