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Human trafficking

Libya’s slave trade: The forced labour, organ harvesting and prostitution that awaits African migrants desperate to reach Europe



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Taking to Twitter earlier this week to respond to the global outrage provoked by footage obtained by CNN that appeared to show sub-Saharan African migrant men being auctioned off by traffickers at slave markets in Libya for as little as $400 each, former Nigerian Aviation Minister Femi Fani-Kayode posted images of a Libyan soldier standing next to the charred remains of a burned corpse hanging from a telegraph pole, and three migrants bearing scars where smugglers had removed their internal organs. Commenting on the fate of sub-Saharan migrants who travel to Libya in the hope of making it across the Mediterranean to Europe, Fani-Kayode wrote: “This is what Libyans do to sub-Saharan Africans who are looking for a transit point to Europe. They sell them into slavery and either murder, mutilate, torture or work them to death.” In a separate tweet accompanied by an image of two African men stripped below the waist with their hands bound by rope, Fani-Kayode added: “If there were ever a reason or cause for us to go to war, the Libyans have provided it by enslaving our people and buying and selling them like Christmas turkeys and sallah goats.”

World leaders, charities, human rights groups and celebrities reacted with horror after CNN published mobile phone footage last month that seemed to depict Libyan people smugglers selling off young sub-Saharan African migrants to the highest bidder at a slave market at an unknown location in the country. “Big, strong boys for farm work,” one man can be heard telling an assembled crowd in the film before bidding commences. The three migrants that feature in the clip are sold to one bidder for $1,200, in much that same way cows would be offloaded at a cattle auction. CNN discovered that these auctions have become commonplace in and around Tripoli, with at least one taking place close to the city every week. One of the main reasons people smugglers are thought to have resorted to selling their human cargo off into slavery is a new EU effort designed to prevent traffickers’ boats loaded with migrants crossing the Mediterranean to Italy. European authorities are working closely with the Libyan coastguard to make sure smugglers’ rafts are now turned back from where they came from. Unable to exploit migrants desperate to flee the poverty of their lives further south by charging them for their onward travel to Europe, trafficking gangs are now forcing their victims to work as slaves or prostitutes, and ripping out their internal organs to sell on the black market.

Voicing fury after CNN’s mobile phone footage emerged, African Union (AU) Chairman President Alpha Conde of Guinea called for prosecutions over what he described as a “despicable trade from another era”, adding: “These modern slavery practices must end and the African Union will use all the tools at its disposal.” Meanwhile, multiple protests were reported by local media outside Libyan embassies in Paris, Bamako, Mali and Conakry in response to the clip. Suggesting the slave auctions may be crimes against humanity, UN Secretary-General António Guterres: “Slavery has no place in our world and these actions are among the most egregious abuses of human rights and may amount to crimes against humanity. I urge every nation to adopt and apply the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organised Crime and its protocol on trafficking in persons, and I urge the international community to unite in fighting this scourge.” Ordinary Libyans also signalled their disgust at the apparent slave markets, using Twitter to post images of themselves with African migrants in a show of solidarity. “We have an issue with #racism in #Libya and it’s the time (sic) we fix it,” Nader Elgadi‏ tweeted. But while the world condemned the practices revealed by CNN’s investigation, it seems migrants attempting to reach Europe via Libya, who arrive in the North African country in their tens of thousands every year, are unaware of the horrors that await them.

Speaking with the Independent today, one activist said migrants making their way to Libya from sub-Saharan Africa appear to be largely unaware of the fate they might face when they reach the country, focussed as they are on the dream of a better life in Europe. Mohamed Lagha, a journalist based in the northern coastal city of Misrata, a major people smuggling hub, said he has yet to meet an African migrant in Libya who had any idea of the ordeal they would face once they arrived. French President Emmanuel Macron this week announced that the European Union and the AU would take military action against the people smuggling gangs selling their victims into slavery, hinting that migrants rescued from the traffickers’ clutches would be repatriated to the countries from which they came. While this might be effective in the short term, the fact that much of Libya remains lawless and largely ungoverned, coupled with the determination of thousands of sub-Saharan Africans to reach Europe at all costs, means this despicable trade in human life will likely not be ending any time soon. All the while poverty-stricken migrants have a reason to leave their homes in an attempt to pursue a more prosperous life halfway around the world, there will be those who are willing to exploit them for profit. If African migrants cannot be persuaded to stay in their home countries, this new form of slavery will persist, and likely become more commonplace.

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Eastern Europeans easy prey for traffickers despite knowledge of exploitative practices, IOM survey finds



Eastern Europeans easy prey for traffickers

A poll conducted by the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) has revealed that Eastern Europeans are easy prey for people smuggling gangs and human traffickers despite having high-level knowledge of organised immigration crime.

The Survey on Migration and Human Trafficking in Ukraine, Moldova, Belarus and Georgia, which was conducted on behalf of the IOM by market research agency Info Sapiens, found that while 86% of Ukrainians are aware of human trafficking, 13% would cross the border irregularly, work without official employment status in exploitive conditions without freedom of movement, or hand over their passport to an employer.

In Georgia, 81% of respondents were found to have a good understanding of human trafficking, with 24% willing to put themselves at risk.

In Belarus, the figures were 85% and 11% respectively, while in Moldova, they were 75% and 17%.

Commenting on the results of the survey, Anh Nguyen, Chief of Mission at IOM Ukraine, said: “IOM is the leading provider of assistance to vulnerable migrants and victims of trafficking in the region, with more than 16,000 trafficking survivors assisted since 2000 in Ukraine.

“The latest survey findings about high levels of irregular employment among migrant workers from Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova and Georgia, as well as our empirical knowledge that Ukrainians prefer to look for jobs abroad through informal channels, show the high need for intensified trafficking prevention affords in the region.”

Last month, an operation conducted jointly by police in Spain and Lithuania resulted in the dismantling of a gang that trafficked women for the purposes of sexual exploitation.

The leaders of the criminal network, two of whom were arrested in a day of action targeting the gang, were said to have used extreme violence to force their victims to work as prostitutes in Lithuania.

Also in November, four members of an eastern European sex trafficking gang were handed prison terms by a Scottish court that totalled more than 36 years after they were convicted of smuggling Slovakian women to Scotland before forcing them to work as prostitutes and enter sham marriages.

Back in October, Secretary General of the Council of Europe Marija Pejčinović Burić used the annual European Anti-trafficking Day to urge EU member states to ensure victims of human trafficking and modern slavery were able to access justice, including financial compensation, for the abuses they suffer.

Explaining how human traffickers keep their victims in the most appalling of conditions, Burić said: “Traffickers must be rigorously prosecuted and punished, but justice must also be done to the victims of trafficking – by making sure they receive compensation, they are protected from being trafficked again and they are given sufficient help to put their lives back together.”


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Customs agents find 17-year-old migrant squeezed into car’s dashboard on US/Mexico border



17-year-old migrant squeezed into car’s dashboard

US border control officers have discovered a 17-year-old boy hidden behind the dashboard of a car crossing the US/Mexico border.

Agents from US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) made the discovery after pulling over a 28-year-old man and his 21-year-old male passenger as they entered the US while driving a 2001 Ford Taurus.

After one officer referred all occupants and the vehicle for further examination, the Mexican teenager was found squeezed into a seemingly purpose-built special compartment behind the car’s dashboard.

Both the driver and the passenger, who the CBP said were both US citizens, were detained and taken into custody to await criminal proceedings.

Once he had been extracted from the vehicle, the migrant was taken to a secure location for a medical assessment and further processing.

Checks conducted by CBP investigators revealed that the boy had previously been caught attempting to enter the US illegally back in March using a document that did not belong to him.

CBP Officer in Charge Sergio Beltran commented: “Smuggling a person in a confined space is dangerous and can have serious consequences.

“In this instance no one was seriously injured during this attempted illegal entry.”

In a statement, the CBP said that being smuggled in confined spaces can be extremely dangerous and can lead to serious injuries and even death, particularly if travelling so close to a vehicle’s motor as the 17-year-old Mexican migrant was.

Last week, the UK’s MailOnline reported that police in Spain had discovered two teenage migrants hidden behind the dashboard and under the back seats of a vehicle as they attempted to sneak across the border from Morocco.

The migrants, who are reported to have been found by customs officers using heartbeat detectors, were trying to get into the Spanish enclave of Melilla in north Africa, which borders Morocco.

Police arrested the driver of the vehicle, a 30-year-old Moroccan man, on suspicion of human trafficking, according to the Mail.

Back in October 2017, Europol’s European Migrant Smuggling Centre (EMSC) warned that people smugglers were charging migrants as much as €7,000 ($7,703) each to be crammed into vehicle engine compartments and trafficked across borders.

The EMSC said in a report that traffickers were stopping their vehicles close to border crossings and telling migrants to climb into the space between a car or van’s engine and bonnet.

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Florida police arrest 104 in sex trafficking crackdown, including suspects who attempted to buy girl aged 13



Florida police arrest 104 in sex trafficking crackdown

Police in Florida have arrested more than 100 people over the course of a five-month crackdown on sex trafficking.

During Operation Trade Secrets II, which began in June, investigators from Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office detained a total of 104 people.

Seventy-six of these were men arrested on suspicion of attempting to pay for sexual services, while 28 were women held on suspicion of working in the sex trade.

The first Operation Trade Secrets initiative, which ran from January until June this year, resulted in the detention of 85 people.

As well as focussing on websites and forums known for offering the sale of sexual services, officers taking part in the latest iteration of the operation also turned their attention to strip clubs, massage parlours and motels throughout the county.

In addition, female officers took to the streets to pose as prostitutes in order to catch those looking to pay for sexual services.

Sheriff Chad Chronister used a statement on his office’s website to highlight what he described as two of the “more despicable” cases the force encountered while conducting the operation.

These involved two men, Jason Fitzgerald, 36, and Luis Colon, 29, meeting separately with an undercover detective posing as the stepfather of a 13-year-old girl he was apparently willing to sell for sex.

“Fitzgerald and Colon showed up at a trailer park in North Tampa. They began negotiating a price for sex with the child, and when they were told they could take their pick, having sex with a 14-year-old girl or a 13-year-old girl inside one of the trailers, they jumped at the chance to be with the even younger girl,” said Chronister.

“Predators like this do not belong on the streets of Hillsborough County.”

Both men were arrested and charged with human trafficking for commercial sexual activity, traveling to meet a minor to solicit certain illegal acts and unlawful use of a two-way communications device.

Earlier this month, a coalition of organisations in Miami launched a new outdoor advertising campaign across the city to raise awareness of sex trafficking ahead of the upcoming Super Bowl in February.

The campaign aims to raise awareness of sex trafficking involving the exploitation of children as young as 12 in posters displayed on billboards, at train stations elsewhere.

Miami Super Bowl Host Committee Chairman Rodney Barreto said: “Earlier this year we launched our Stop Sex Trafficking Campaign – an unprecedented effort involving local, state and federal agencies, as well as a significant number of other partners who have come together to combat sex trafficking with new tools and zero tolerance.”

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