Libya arrests 2 suspected traffickers, returns 53 to Egypt
Libyan authorities have arrested two suspected human traffickers and facilitated the return of more than 50 Egyptian migrants to their countries of origin, officials said.
Fifty-three Egyptians landed at Cairo International Airport on a private flight Sunday evening after authorities in the Libyan capital Tripoli arrested them for attempting to travel by boat to Europe in recent weeks, the government said. Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
The arrests and return of potential migrants came amid a spike in dangerous crossings and attempted crossings from the North African nation to Europe via the Mediterranean Sea.
Libya’s attorney general’s office said on Sunday that a suspected trafficker, known on social media platforms as Haj Hakeem, was arrested for detaining and torturing Egyptian migrants for ransom.
The office said in a statement that the suspect also faces charges of human trafficking and coordinating recent migrant sea crossings. Prosecutors ordered him to remain in detention and issued arrest warrants for others whose names were not mentioned in the statement.
Graphic photos were attached to the statement showing what prosecutors said were half-naked Egyptian migrants with their hands tied behind their backs. At least three masked people appear to beat and torture them.
Another suspected human trafficker, a Somali national named Hassan Qeidi, was arrested over the weekend, the prosecutor’s office said in a separate statement.
He said Qeidi was facing charges, including leading a human trafficking ring inside and outside Libya. He has also been accused of killing dozens of migrants, of sexual misconduct against migrant women and of mistreating migrants for ransom from their families.
It was not immediately possible to reach family members or lawyers for the two suspects.
Libya has for years been a hub for African and Middle Eastern migrants fleeing war and poverty in their countries of origin and hoping for a better life in Europe. The oil-rich country plunged into chaos following a NATO-backed uprising that overthrew and killed longtime autocrat Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.
The traffickers have exploited the chaos and often pack desperate families into ill-equipped rubber or wooden boats that stall and sink along the perilous central Mediterranean route. Thousands of people drowned along the way. The traffickers have been implicated in widespread abuses of migrants, including torture and kidnapping for ransom.
There has been an increase in crossings and attempted crossings, mainly from Libya but also from Tunisia in recent months. The Libyan Coast Guard intercepted thousands of migrants.
The United Nations migration agency said more than 23,580 migrants have been intercepted and returned to Libya so far this year, despite repeated warnings from international rights groups over the situation in County of North Africa.
At least 1,100 migrants were reported dead or presumed dead in numerous boat crashes and shipwrecks off Libya in 2021, the International Organization for Migration said earlier this month.
In recent years, the European Union has partnered with Libya to prevent migrants from making the dangerous journey by sea to Europe. Rights groups say these efforts have left migrants at the mercy of armed groups or confined to squalid detention centers that lack adequate food and water.
An Associated Press investigation in 2019 found that militias in Libya tortured, extorted and mistreated migrants for ransom in detention centers under the UN’s noses, often in complexes that receive millions of people. European money paid to the Libyan government to slow the tide of migrants crossing the Mediterranean.