From file: Migrants in the hands of smugglers in Libya | Photo: Reuters
From file: Migrants in the hands of smugglers in Libya | Photo: Reuters

The Libyan army says it has freed 120 migrants from traffickers in northern Libya. In a Facebook post, the army says the mostly Egyptian migrants were held captive and tortured in hideouts in the city of Bani Walid.

According to the Libyan army's own information, its soldiers freed 120 migrants held captive by human traffickers in the northern town of Bani Walid in a raid on Wednesday (March 10). It was the second operation against human traffickers the army conducted in Bani Walid in one week.

The migrants, mostly Egyptians, were released after "a morning raid on the dens of human traffickers," the 444th combat brigade said in a Facebook post.

Citing testimonies from those released, the army further said the victims' captors had subjected them to "torture and extortion". Bani Walid, located about 170 kilometers (105 miles) southeast of Tripoli on the edge of the Sahara desert, is considered a center for human trafficking.

A Libyan aid organization, which was not named, on Thursday (March 11) said it had taken in 26 of the traumatized women and men, news agency dpa reported. The victims were able to flee during an exchange of fire between the army and the human traffickers, the organization said.

According to a tweet from "Migrant Rescue Watch" with the handle @rgowans, the victims were brought to a detention center of Libya's Directorate for Combatting Illegal Migration (DCIM) in Tripoli "early" on Thursday (March 11). "Upon arrival all received medical assistance and psychological debriefing," the tweet said further.

Widespread abuse

Abuse of migrants is widespread in war-torn Libya. Migrant smugglers and people traffickers as well as militias have been exploiting the chaos which has reigned since the 2011 ousting of dictator longtime ruler Muammar Gaddafi. Those intercepted at sea by Libya's controversial coast guard and returned to Libya are usually brought to detention centers notorious for suffering including abuse, torture, slavery, extortion and rape.

According to IOM and UNHCR insiders, some 3,200 people were being held in eleven detention centers in Libya last October.

Migrants locked up in detention centers in Libya say they lack food and water. Many are also sick with tuberculosis | Photo: Reuters
Migrants locked up in detention centers in Libya say they lack food and water. Many are also sick with tuberculosis | Photo: Reuters

During the ongoing war in Libya, troops of the internationally recognized government in the capital Tripoli and the troops of the influential general Haftar have been contending for power. However, the recent agreement of the factions in Libyan Parliament on an interim government has spurred hope for reconciliation. This Wednesday, lawmakers voted in favor of the interim government to lead Libya through long-delayed elections, scheduled for December 24.

"These operations will not stop and will be repeated on the strongholds of crime wherever they are, and we will plead the outlaws to face their fate," the Facebook post of the 444th combat brigade read. Based on the information on its Facebook page, the brigade is presumably on the side of the government in Tripoli.

Also read: Smuggling network source reveals harrowing details of migrants' 'death journey' inside Libya

More anti-trafficking operations

Operations by Libyan authorities to combat migrant trafficking have rarely been reported in the past. But in recent weeks, efforts appear to have been stepped up. In fact, Wednesday's raid was at least the third operation Libyan authorities conducted against human traffickers in three weeks.

Last week, said 444th combat brigade had already carried out an operation against traffickers in Bani Walid that led to the release of 70 migrants who were reportedly beaten and tortured in six secret prisons. In late February, some 350 African migrants, including over 100 children, were freed from a secret underground prison in the southeastern city of Kufra.

In early March, a man suspected of having murdered 30 migrants last year was arrested in the city of Mezdah. The revenge attack was allegedly carried out by the family of a people smuggler who had been killed by migrants.

Since the overthrow of Gaddafi in 2011, Libya has become the major transit point for African and Arab migrants hoping to reach Europe. Thousands of people have crossed into Libya from neighboring countries in recent years and traveled onwards to the Mediterranean coast, where human traffickers operate boats bound for Europe.

Earlier this month, the mayor of the Italian island of Lampedusa said he was concerned over the "increasingly active" Libyan route to Italy.

with AFP, dpa


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