LIBYA – More than 100 East African migrants fled smugglers who were holding them near the Libyan city of Beni Walid earlier this week and some were reported killed or wounded in the operation, a local source and aid workers said.
The local source in Bani Walid and Médecins Sans Frontières said the migrants were shot while trying to flee. At least 15 people were killed and up to 40 were left behind, most of them women, survivors said.
MSF said in a statement it had treated 25 migrants at the Beni Walid hospital and that some had been shot and fractured.
A separate statement by the United Nations agencies for migration and refugees said that “the notorious smuggler Moussa Diab” was holding the migrants, about 140 from Eritrea, Ethiopia and Somalia.
Médecins Sans Frontières said there were mainly teenagers who sought refuge in Europe and were reported to have been seized and trafficked by smugglers several times around Beni Walid and nearby Nesma.
Beni Walid, 145 km south of Tripoli, has become a major center for the smuggling of migrants arriving from sub-Saharan Africa in an attempt to reach the Libyan coast on the Mediterranean Sea.
From there, many have sought to travel to Italy through boats that have been severely curtailed since July when a major smuggling group in Libya’s coastal city of Sabrata signed an agreement to stop the departure under Italian pressure and then was forcibly expelled in clashes.
The Libyan Coast Guard, backed by the European Union, returned more migrants to Libya after intercepting them at sea.
Representatives of the immigrant community said smugglers were now working more internally, especially around Bani Walid, where they run secret prisons and migrants who are often tortured or raped to extort money from them or their families are held for longer periods. MSF said that ” For ransom is still a popular trade and has been reinforced by EU-sponsored policies aimed at criminalizing migrants and refugees and preventing them from reaching European shores at any price.”