A new report by the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) has revealed the shocking scale of abuse by criminal gangs who prey on asylum seekers travelling across Africa. Refugees and migrants are being forced into “modern slavery” by ruthless people traffickers who are imprisoning, torturing and raping those they exploit. The UN agency found that almost three-quarters of migrants attempting to cross the Central Mediterranean have experienced exploitation and human trafficking, most commonly in Libya.
Dipti Pardeshi, chief of mission for IOM UK, explained, “We need to remember that regardless of the reasons that people move, or their background, they deserve protection.” More than half of asylum seekers arriving in Italy are diagnosed with mental health issues, mostly triggered by trauma in their home countries or during their journeys to Europe.
Almost half of the men, women and children rescued in the Central Mediterranean said they had been imprisoned for ransom during their journey towards Europe. The research found migrants journeying via Libya are between seven and 10 times more likely to be abused than those reaching Europe from Turkey, with the likelihood of exploitation rising with the time they spend in transit at the mercy of smugglers.
Rescue workers with Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) have been recording accounts of the abuses on their rescue ships, which are picking up refugees packed onto overcrowded boats launched from Libya. The group said Libya’s degeneration into chaos following the NATO-backed intervention to oust Muammar Gaddafi in the country’s civil war has left rival armed groups, criminal gangs and Isis vying for power. Armed smugglers are known to frequently detain migrants in squalid conditions, demanding ransoms or forcing them into labour, beating and torturing any who cannot pay. Others told MSF they were shuttled between middlemen and “brokers” for forced labour on construction sites or farms, and were locked up in warehouses at night, until they paid their way out of captivity.