Geneva – The discovery of 287 Egyptian migrants, including more than 90 children, held in a warehouse in eastern Libya should underscore the importance of combating smuggling and human trafficking networks, as well as raise social awareness of the dangers of exploitative migration routes and this type of persecution, Euro-Med Monitor said in a statement.
On Sunday evening (4 September), Euro-Med Monitor closely followed the Tobruk Security Directorate raid on the warehouse, which is located at a farm south of the city. Security forces discovered the migrants locked up in a deplorable humanitarian situation and transferred them to Tobruk’s emergency centre in preparation for their deportation to Egypt.
Euro-Med Monitor reviewed shocking testimonies of a large number of migrants who were detained inside the warehouse. Adult migrants said they had paid money to reach Libya and then migrate to Italy by sea in search of work opportunities, whereas some migrant children had no idea where they were going or what risks they would be exposed to along the way.
The migrants, who are all Egyptians, range from 12 to 50 years old in age and come from various governorates in Egypt, including Asyut, Minya, and Gharbia. Some paid up to 170,000 Egyptian pounds (approximately $8,800 USD) for the journey, according to testimonies. One migrant stated that he sold all of his property to secure the funds in the hopes of migrating to Italy to find work.
Most migrants appeared to be unaware of the routes they took to Libya from Egypt, or the identities of those who oversaw the smuggling operation in either country.
They were transported by land in several vehicles to Libyan territory, at which point they were transferred to the warehouse south of Tobruk—about 140 kilometres away from the Egyptian border. Some said that they had to walk 10s of kilometres in the desert to get there.
Their stay in the warehouse ranged from a few days to six months, and some of them claimed to have been shuttled between at least five warehouses during their time in Libya. The migrants, particularly the children, complained about the inhumane treatment they received inside the warehouse, where they suffered various forms of abuse at the hands of the smugglers. Both physical and verbal violence were used against them, including insults, humiliation, beatings, and, in some cases, electrocution torture.
On top of being given only small portions of innutritious food and little water, the migrants were further abused by being denied communication with the outside world; their phones, money, and personal belongings were seized by the smugglers.
According to a local security official, the security forces did not find any smugglers in the warehouse, only migrants, who were consequently transferred to the Tobruk emergency centre and deported to Egypt via the Salloum border crossing over the next two days.
Nour Olwan, Euro-Med Monitor’s Chief Media Officer, said: “It is shocking and unfortunate to see children under the age of 12 in such a complex situation. In any case, they cannot be held responsible because they are still unable to make the right decisions and use good judgement.”
“The family bears the primary responsibility in this case, as it should not encourage or assist children in taking dangerous journeys where they may risk losing their lives to obtain job opportunities for which they are still too young”, Olwan asserted.
“However, the state is responsible for tightening control over smuggling and human trafficking networks, thwarting any similar attempts targeting children or adults, and must intensify efforts to create job opportunities and raise the country’s standard of living”, she added.
In December 2021, Euro-Med Monitor published a detailed report documenting the grave violations migrants and asylum seekers face in Libya. These migrants may be the most vulnerable to human trafficking crimes such as forced labour, sexual exploitation, enslavement, and organ theft—violations that endanger their lives as well as physical and psychological integrity, as they are subjected to a complemented system of exploitation, persecution, and exchanging their freedoms for money or services.
Libyan authorities must intensify efforts to combat human trafficking and smuggling gangs, provide aid and assistance to migrants who have been victims of such criminal acts, improve official migrant detention facilities, and end all illegal practices against migrants.
The Egyptian government and the National Coordinating Committee for Combating and Preventing Illegal Migration and Trafficking in Persons (NCCPIMTIP) should work together to combat and dismantle human trafficking networks, as well as collaborate with civil society organisations operating in the country to raise awareness of the dangers of dealing with smugglers and others involved in human trafficking operations, and explain the consequences of falling victim to such grim activities.
Both Libya and Egypt bear responsibility to adopt measures to prevent human trafficking, punish perpetrators, and protect victims through any means, as per the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children to the United Nations Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime, which Egypt and Libya ratified in March and September 2004, respectively.