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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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Major ‘lover boy’ prostitution gang broken up by coalition of European law enforcement agencies

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A Romanian human trafficking and prostitution network that used the “lover boy” method to entrap young women before forcing them into sex work has been broken up a coalition of European law enforcement agencies.

The lover boy method, also known as the “Romeo pimp” method, involves young men seducing victims with the objective of coercing them into prostitution.

Lover boy traffickers groom their victims to believe they have entered into a serious romantic relationship before using emotional, psychological and sometimes physical abuse to intimidate them into working in the sex services industry.

Investigators from Spain, Romania, the Czech Republic and several other European nations were involved in the operation that resulted in the dismantling of the gang, which is said to have groomed and exploited at least 10 young women by forcing them to work as prostitutes.

The operation resulted in the arrest of 14 people in Romania and Spain, the safeguarding of 10 trafficking victims, and the confiscation of a number of items, including a quantity of cash, jewellery, expensive vehicles and several electronic devices.

In total, the agencies taking part in the effort raided 16 properties in the Czech Republic, Romania and Spain.

Having groomed their victims, Romanian members of the network would develop manipulative dependent relationships with the young women they targeted before forcing them into sex work.

Once under the traffickers’ control, victims would be abused and drugged before being sold onto other members of the network for as much as €6,000 ($6,632) each.

The women would then be moved between locations and countries on a regular basis as part of the gang’s efforts to avoid the attention of police.

Profits made by the network were laundered through the purchase of property, expensive jewellery and high-value cars.

Ongoing investigations into the network’s activities are focussed on the theory that it was working in cooperation with another gang.

Enquires have already resulted in the identification of more than 40 additional women who fell victim to the two criminal organisations.

In a statement, Europol said: “Europol facilitated the information exchange between the participating countries, provided coordination support and analysed operational information against Europol’s databases to give leads to investigators.

“Europol conducted a financial analysis based on the information provided which highlighted the extension of the criminal activity of the group and the presence and flow of illicit profits to other jurisdictions.”

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US politicians call for state action against Pornhub over allegations it hosted rape and child abuse videos

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Pornhub and its Canadian owner MindGeek should face a US federal investigation over allegations they hosted videos depicting the rape and sexual exploitation of trafficked women and children, Republican Senator Ben Sasse has said.

In a letter sent to the US Department of Justice on Monday, Sasse noted several cases in which the website, which clocked up 42 billion visits last year, had made content available in which vulnerable trafficking victims could be seen being abused.

Sasse quoted one example in which the mother of a missing 15-year-old girl discovered that videos featuring the rape and sexual assault of her daughter had been uploaded to the website.

Christopher Johnson, the victim’s trafficker, filmed himself raping the teenager before adding the resultant footage to Pornhub.

After forcing the girl to have an abortion, Johnson was arrested in Florida when police matched his appearance in some of the videos and linked it with CCTV footage.

Sasse also highlighted the case of the owners of porn sites GirlsDoPorn and GirlsDoToys, who were charged with sex trafficking offences after they conned young woman into appearing in adult films on false pretenses before uploading the footage to Pornhub without the victims’ permission.

“[T]he problem of Pornhub streaming content featuring women and children victims of sex trafficking reached the point in November that PayPal cut off services for Pornhub, refusing to facilitate this abuse any longer,” Sasse wrote.

“Pornhub must not escape scrutiny. I therefore request that the Department open an investigation into Pornhub and its parent entity MindGeek Holding SARL for their involvement in this disturbing pipeline of exploiting children and other victims and survivors of sex trafficking.”

Speaking separately with Fox News on Tuesday, Democrat politician Jackie Speier said that while a federal investigation into Pornhub would be a good first step, Congress should pass her Stopping Harmful Image Exploitation and Limiting Distribution (SHIELD) Act, which would impose “criminal penalties for posting nonconsensual pornography on sites like Pornhub”.

“I’ve spoken with many survivors who have been driven from careers, fields of study, and lost family and loved ones due to this insidious practice. In the worst cases, people have been driven to suicide,” Speier said.

Last month, US women’s rights group Exodus Cry posted a petition on Change.org calling for Pornhub to be closed down after it hosted videos featuring sex trafficking victims and child sexual exploitation.

The petition has so far attracted almost 440,000 signatures.

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Police nab six members of gang that charged Vietnamese migrants as much as €20,000 to be trafficked to Germany

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police nab six members of gang that charged Vietnamese migrants

Police in Germany have arrested six suspects during a Europol-backed investigation into an organised immigration crime network that is said to have charged Vietnamese nationals as much as €20,000 ($22,126) each to be smuggled into Europe.

The operation, which involved a total of 700 law enforcement officers, saw raids on 20 residential apartments and business premises across Berlin’s eastern Kreuzberg district, including nail bars and restaurants.

After issuing 13 arrest warrants for members of the gang, officers detained six alleged members of the network, and took into temporary custody an additional 30 individuals, who were presumed to have been trafficked Vietnamese nationals.

Members of the network are thought to have facilitated the trafficking into Germany of nearly 160 Vietnamese citizens, each of whom was charged between €5,000 and €20,000 for the journey.

The gang behind the conspiracy, which is said to have been under investigation since 2018, used companies it controlled in Germany and Romania to fraudulently secure valid Schengen visas for the migrants.

Once the Vietnamese nationals arrived in Germany, they were deprived of their belongings and forced to work for no pay until they had paid off the fee they were charged for their entry to Europe.

Migrants were first flown by plane from Vietnam to airports in Eastern Europe before being taken by car to various locations across Germany.

In a statement, Europol said it supported the operation by providing international coordination and operational assistance, deploying experts from its European Migrant Smuggling Centre to offer on-the-spot support to German authorities with the cross-checking of operational information.

Commenting on the arrests, Robert Crepinko, Head of Europol’s European Migrant Smuggling Centre, said: “People involved in migrant smuggling are far from being benevolent individuals trying to help other people get a better life.

“They are ruthless criminals who will do everything to make money.

“This action today with the German authorities sends the clear message that Europol and its partners are determined to pursue those responsible for these terrible crimes.”

At the end of last month, Europol revealed that police in Germany had arrested the ringleader of a network that arranged bogus marriages for Indian nationals to help them gain European citizenship.

The 44-year-old Indian man, who lived in the German town of Elmshorn, was detained as a result of an investigation that began back in 2018.

The network led by the suspect is said to have facilitated illegal immigration by organising sham marriages, predominantly between Indian and Romanian nationals using forged documents.

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