Tuesday 12 December 2017

Sick and injured migrants buried alive by Libyan people smugglers, reveals charity

Illegal migrants arrive at a naval base after they were rescued by Libyan coastguard in the coastal city of Tripoli, Libya
Illegal migrants arrive at a naval base after they were rescued by Libyan coastguard in the coastal city of Tripoli, Libya

Nick Squires in Rome

Migrants in Libya have been forced by smugglers to bury alive fellow migrants who are too sick or injured to board boats setting off across the Mediterranean towards Italy, it was revealed yesterday.

Migrants often spend months in Libya, held captive in squalid compounds or trying to earn enough money for their passage, and suffer knife and gunshot wounds at the hands of Libyan militia or ruthless gangs of traffickers.

They are even sold as cheap labour in modern-day slave markets, humanitarian organisations say. If they are too badly injured to walk to the beaches from where the rubber dinghies set out or if they are perceived as being too much trouble because of illness, then they are killed, said Flavio Di Giacomo, spokesman for the International Organisation for Migration (IOM).

“We have recently heard of cases where migrants who are wounded or sick have been buried alive by other migrants, on the orders of the traffickers,” Mr Di Giacomo said. “It’s horrific to think that traffickers can be so cruel. But they don’t care about the lives of migrants. If a migrant is a problem, they will kill them. A lot of migrants are shot dead on the beaches if they refuse to board the boats.

“It might be they see the boats are overcrowded or the weather conditions are very bad. They are scared of the sea. A lot of these people come from small African villages and it’s the first time they have seen the sea.”

A young Gambian migrant named Ousmane said: “My friend got very sick in Libya. He was sick, but not dead. They buried him alive. They said he couldn’t have survived anyway. I heard him shout my name from the ground. I ran to him and saw them throwing dirt on top of him. I tried to save him, but they cut me with a knife.”

Before they even reach the coast, some migrants are sold in slave markets held in town squares or car parks for the equivalent of €200 each, after which an even worse fate awaits them. Their new “owners” torture them in a bid to extract money out of their traumatised families back home.

“Sometimes they are tortured while they are on the phone to their families, so their relatives know they are suffering,” said Mr Di Giacomo.

Trafficking gangs are making millions of euro extorting money out of migrants who dream of reaching Europe, but many of the asylum seekers pay the ultimate price.

Up to 200 migrants were feared to have drowned in the Mediterranean in recent days after two vessels carrying them towards Italy capsized, the UN’s refugee agency said.

On Sunday, a smuggling boat went down off the Libyan coast, with around 113 people missing. Just six men and one woman were rescued by the Libyan Coast Guard, according to the UNHCR. In the second incident, a rubber dinghy carrying an estimated 132 people sank, also off the coast of Libya. Around 50 people were rescued and 80 were still missing.

So far this year, more than 1,100 people are believed to have died while attempting the crossing from Libya towards Sicily, either in rickety fishing boats or overcrowded, cheap rubber dinghies.

There were reports that an African migrant woman died while giving birth on a beach on the Libyan coast, just as a boat was about to leave. Her husband was forced by armed smugglers to leave her corpse on the sand, scoop up their newborn baby and board the dinghy. The man and his baby daughter were rescued at sea by a boat run by a Spanish NGO and brought to the Italian island of Lampedusa on Monday.

So far this year more than 43,000 migrants have been rescued at sea and brought to Italy, an increase of 38pc compared with the same period last year.

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