From file: Thousands of migrants are being held in Libya; most were intercepted at sea by coast guards after attempting to board a boat for Europe | Photo: Reuters
From file: Thousands of migrants are being held in Libya; most were intercepted at sea by coast guards after attempting to board a boat for Europe | Photo: Reuters

Photos of sub-Saharan migrants who are being detained in Libyan prisons have been spotted on Facebook by an Italian newspaper. The objective, according to the newspaper authors, is that an internet user ends up recognizing one of the migrants and pays for their release.

Photos of detainees in Libyan prisons, only identified by a small piece of paper with a number on it that they are themselves holding, have been published on Facebook. The Italian daily Il Fatto Quotidiano accessed the post and reported on it. The goal, according to the newspaper report, is that the post is viewed and shared as much as possible, until an internet user recognizes a detainee, and then pays for his release. This is the latest technique used by Libyan jailers to extract money from migrants, according to Il Fatto Quotidiano.

"These people have been arrested, their parents have not heard from them in years. We ask anyone who recognizes anyone to notify their families," reads the Facebook post.

This well-orchestrated blackmail is intended to play on the distress of the families, who are then forced to pay a ransom to save the life of the imprisoned person.

In these photos of migrants who have lost contact with their loved ones, or "that no one is looking for anymore", the expressions on their faces are fear and exhaustion. "Some faces are swollen with bruises and wounds", reports Il Fatto Quotidiano. The social media post, a cross between a police line up and "a sale of human beings at a market", shows 28 migrants, probably all of sub-Saharan origin.

Migrants, ATMs

Caroline Gluck, the head of external relations at the UNHCR in Libya, says it is the first time she has ever been confronted with this kind of practice. She tells the Italian newspaper that, however, "the kidnapping of migrants for extortion" is "unfortunately well known".

Read more: US and UN impose sanctions on Libyan accused of migrant abuses

"Criminals in Libya have no time to lose and consider humans as little more than potential ATMs," confirmed Aboubacar, a Nigerian migrant interviewed by Il Fatto Quotidiano who prefers not to give his full name.

"The system [...] is very simple. The militias intercept migrants at the border with neighboring countries, especially Niger, but also Algeria, Chad and Sudan, and guarantee their transportation to Tripoli. They are always made to pay for this service, of course," he says. Often the migrants do not know that once they arrive, they will not be released or put in contact with the smuggling organizations that arrange the Mediterranean crossings. This is when the real ordeal begins.

Read more: Libyan coast guard fires live ammunition at migrant boat

'You have to pay to get out'

Since the fall of Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, Libya has become a preferred route for tens of thousands of migrants seeking to reach Europe. But many find themselves stuck there, in prisons described by the exiles as a "real hell". The main solution to getting out? Money.

This system was explained to InfoMigrants by many migrants including Assane*, who was locked up in a secret prison near Zaouïa. "I was no longer useful, so the guards agreed to exchange me for money. A friend paid to free me."

Read more: 'How do I mourn my brother, without a body or a grave?', asks family of teenager killed in Libyan prison

Daouda*, another 19-year-old migrant from Guinea, also had to ask his father for money to get out of prison. "But by the time [he] got the money together, it was already too late," says his sister. The young man died in prison, shot by the guards during an escape attempt.

Salif*, who ha already s tried to cross the Mediterranean from Libya six times, explains that "when migrants are sent back to a Libyan port, they are immediately transferred to a detention center. Again, you have to pay to get out and the amount is 3,000 Libyan dinars (about €550 euros). The first question the guards ask us when we arrive is: 'Who has money to get out of prison?'"

* First names have been changed.


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