Libyan Trafficking Warehouses: A Syrian’s Journey of Torture and Waiting for Death

Libyan Trafficking Warehouses: A Syrian’s Journey of Torture and Waiting for Death

Reports | 20 06 2023

Iman Hamrawi

“Human traffickers that don’t fear God. To them, we’re just a few bucks,” a Syrian youngman named saeid emotionally tells Rozana about the eight months he spent in Libya. The plan was to go on an illegal boat trip to Italy, but then he had to deal with human traffickers. His trip came to an end, and he went back to Daraa.

In voice notes, Saeid describes how he lived in the so-called Libyan Trafficking Warehouses. “We’re of no worth to the traffickers. We faced sickness, hunger and torture. We waited for death. It wasn’t just me, it was hunderds of us in Libya”. 

While Saeid was recollecting such painful memories, an old fishing boat sank off the Greek coast. The boat had left Libya’s Tobruk, last week, with an estimated 750 people onboard. 81 bodies have been recovered and 104 people, including Syrians, have been rescued. Most of the passengers are still missing, up to the moment of publishing this report. 

Saeid, 30, says that such warehouses are like barns. He believes that his experience in Libya was almost like “waiting for death”, due to the behavior of Syrian and Libyan traffickers. 

From Syria to Libya

In late March 2022, Saeid spent 1600 USD to fly from Damascuss to Libya after the Syrian regime had granted youngmen in the southern Daraa province the right to postpone their enrollment in the army for one year. 

Saeid left a wife and two children behind to secure a better future, he explains, after talking to a number of traffickers across Libya ــــTobruk; Benghazi; Tripoli; and Ajdabiya.

He finally made a deal with a trafficker from Nawa, Daraa. Along with a number of fellow Syrian traffickers, that trafficker “brought youngmen together” and handed them over to a Libyan person that was in charge of putting those youngmen in places designated for migrants. Due to such places, the so-called warehouses, Saeid went back to Syria with hepatitis, malnutrition, and fungus.

What Are the Warehouses? 

According to Saeid, the warehouses are “16-square-meter deserted rooms and animal barns, where traffickers bring together those who want to migrate by sea. They’re usually between 40 to 50 migrants”. 

“The deal was to pay $3500 for going to Italy from Libya,” Saeid explains.

“The trafficker sent someone to meet me at Benina International Airport,” Saeid tells Rozana what happened once he arrived in Libya. “We went to Tobruk, where he dropped me off at a rented apartment with 15 people of different nationalities”. 

The ongoing trafficking activities in Libya rely on migrants coming from countries witnessing conflicts and wars. The International Organization for Migration, on the other hand, reiterates that “Libya cannot be a safe place for migrants”. 

The Waiting for Death Journey

Over a period of eight months, Saeid moved from one warehouse to another. In some, he stayed for days. In others, he stayed for months. All for a trip he couldn’t make a number of times, as a result of a “lack of agreement among traffickers”.

The time he spent in warehouses was extremely tough. “Staying in those warehouses was like waiting for death. Everyday, we would live on a triangle of cheese and a piece of bread all day. We would even drink from the water on the ground”.

One time, two Egyptian youngmen tried to escape. They couldn’t make it and were caught by the trafficker, who brought them back to the warehouse. They were tortured and beaten with electrical wires and sticks, until they bled. “I had never seen such torture in my life. It was on the grounds that they might tell the Libyan government about the location of the warehouse, after their escape attempt,” he explained. 

Along with his warehouse mates, Saeid went to the apartment. “We were sick and hungry, as if we had just escaped death. Our cellphones were taken from us, because they were afraid we might tell the government about them”. 

Saeid spent those eight months moving between warehouses, as the traffickers kept promising them the boat trip. 

Ajdabiya Warehouses

After spending 10 weeks in warehouses, the traffickers decided to take them to they city of Ajdabiya in northeastern Libya. “And we agreed, because we wanted salvation”.  

More than 500 migrants were taken to Ajdabiya, by the traffickers. They were basically taken to the desert. “We didn’t have a house or a tent,” Saeid tells Rozana. “There was only a palmtree that would give us some shade”.

In the middle of the desert, the traffickers threatened the migrants that the trip would be cancelled if they didn’t pay the $3500, even though the agreement was to pay the money after arriving in Italy. “We paid them,” Saied explains. “what choice did we have?!”. 

Tired of waiting in the heart of the desert, the migrants informed the traffickers that they no longer wanted to travel by sea. Out of 300 people; 73 were arrested by the Libyan authorities, among of whom was Saeid.

Migrants were transferred, by the Libyan criminal police forces, to Ajdabiya’s city center and then to Benghazi’s immigration detention centre. After doing some tests, migrants were released on bail. Saied knew, after doing those tests, that he had hepatitis and malnutrition. “Eventually, I had to pay 1500 to get out of prison,” Saeid said. 

New Trafficking Trip

What happened didn’t stop Saied from making a deal with another trafficker. For 10 weeks, he was in the warehouses once again. “To find a way out of exhaustion, oppression, and humiliation,” he told Rozana. 

A bomb and gun fight among traffickers, though, led Saied to cancel the plan. After all, he had to go back to Syria in eight months. 

“Some spent one day in the warehouses before they went to Europe, others drowned. And while some are still in Libya, others went back to Syria like I did,” he concluded. 

“The Central Mediterranean is the the most dangerous migration route in the world,” the IOM states. 

In May 2022, the Libyan Criminal Investigation Body raided human trafficking warehouses. Such warehouses, in which illegal immigrants stay, lack means of subsisting. After asking them about the ownership of those warehouses, the immigrants were referred to the competent authorities. 

Early December 2022, Britain's The Times mentioned that Italy is complaining about the increasing number of migrants via eastern Libya. “Egyptian migrants go to Italy, through hidden bays near Tobruk”. 

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