21. April 2015 · Kommentare deaktiviert für Libya’s most successful people smuggler: ‚I provide a service‘ – The Guardian · Kategorien: Italien, Libyen, Mittelmeer · Tags: ,

The Guardian

Human trafficking has gone from a niche business to a huge – and hugely profitable – industry since Gaddafi’s fall in 2011

With a joint of hashish in one hand and a can of Red Bull in the other, one of Libya’s most successful people smugglers reclines in his apartment, the rooms strewn with bowls of chocolates, and explains the rationale behind his business. „I am not a criminal,“ he says. „I provide a service.“

In his 30s, the smuggler, wearing a gold medallion over a white T-shirt, declines to be named, but is happy to sketch out details of what he describes as a successful, legitimate business: the smuggling of those who can afford it into Europe.

„The traffic of human beings is a service widely requested on the market, I am just a provider,“ he says.

This „market“ is made up of millions of people fleeing war, persecution or poverty living across great swaths of Africa and the Middle East.

He has been a people smuggler since 2006, when the former dictator, Muammar Gaddafi, turned a blind eye to such operations. What has transformed a niche business into a gigantic industry is the almost complete collapse of government authority following Libya’s 2011 revolution.

Gangs move migrants across Libya’s Sahara desert border for the long trek north, unimpeded by security forces. At the coast, they are handed to agents who find them boats from smugglers like him.

These agents, he says, operate a „league table“ of smugglers, rating them according to how many would-be migrants make it safely across the Mediterranean. He says his safety record puts him near the top of this league.

„If you know the sea and are not greedy, and respect the boat’s capacity, you can guarantee a safe trip to the passengers,“ he says. „So far, none of boats I filled with people have sunk. This gives me good credit as a trafficker among the agents.“

He is helped by working out of Zuwara, a town close to the Tunisian border that offers one of the shortest crossings for migrants from Libya to Sicily, and where there is little police presence.

The profits are vast. Each migrant is charged at least $1,000 (£580), and more than 200 are loaded into each boat, giving him a business that generates $1m or more a week. The profit margins mean he can afford to abandon boats and migrants on the high seas.

New boats are, however, in short supply, because Libyan boat builders cannot get supplies of timber in this crisis-torn country, and his crews face arrest if they are on board when the boats are stopped by Italian navy patrols.

So he has recently adopted a new strategy. His crews now search for Italian warships, which patrol near an oil platform at Bouri, 70 miles from the Libyan coast.

„As soon as the ship reaches Bouri field, I call the military forces,“ he says. His crew then abandons ship in a rubber boat, and waits while the Italians pick up the migrants, leaving the boat adrift. Then his crew scrambles back aboard and sails back to Libya for a fresh cargo.

The Italian navy and coastguard did not respond to request for comment.

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