In videos published by the NGO Refugees in Libya on its X account, three men and two women are violently beaten by human traffickers. The victims are believed to be detained in the town of Bani Walid in western Libya, which is under the government of Abdul Hamid Dbeibeh. They can be seen pleading for help.
Their names are: Aaron Tadesse, Deacon Nftalem, Lewam Addis Beyene, and Adam Mehamed. They have been detained for at least three weeks in unbearable conditions in secret prisons in western Libya, run by militias. These are unofficial prisons, different from those run by Dbeibeh’s Directorate for Combatting Illegal Migration (DCIM), a department of the interior ministry.
In videos broadcast by the NGO Refugees in Libya on its X account (formerly known as Twitter), the young people appear to be tortured and starved by human traffickers. The scenes are thought to take place in Bani Walid, about 200 kilometers south of Tripoli.
Two videos show women: Lewam Addis Beyene and Mercy Zeru Debas. The Eritrean migrants are depicted being violently beaten on their backs by men armed with sticks – and they are covered in bruises.
Lewam Addis Beyene
Born in Shire, Tigray is one of many victims who are being held captive in Bani Walid warehouse and are under constant torture in an attempt to extort 12.000$ from their families.
We have alerted the authorities in Tripoli since many hours but no one has… pic.twitter.com/kfzT6QegSh
— Refugees In Libya (@RefugeesinLibya) November 3, 2023
Two other posts published on X show an Ethiopian man, Kibrom Gebremariam, and a 16-year-old minor, Adam Mehamed, yelling as they are whipped by their jailers. “The video with the young man was filmed on October 29,” said Yambio. His torturers are demanding $12,000 (around €11,000) from him.
Here is a translation for those who were not able to understand the plight of this young Eritrean Christian chased away by circumstances and fell into the hands of the Libyan torturers thanks to the support of the Italian government, today boys like Nftalem is electroshocked,… pic.twitter.com/tFdVZ1Nf8f
— Refugees In Libya (@RefugeesinLibya) November 4, 2023
Deacon Nftalem, a terrified young Eritrean man with an emaciated body and a cross around his neck, begs for help in a final video. “I have been in Libya for four months, and I have no one to help me,” he says in Tigrinya. The traffickers demand $7,500 (around €7,000) from him. There are also photographs of a different man who appears seated and hugging his legs with bloody wounds on his back and shoulders in plain sight.
“The videos were sent to us by the traffickers themselves,” said Yambio. “They use the phones of the victims and contact us on our Whatsapp hotline. We have been able to speak to six people [via this hotline] so far out of the 17 we saw during these video calls,” he said. The telephone helpline mentioned by Yambio was launched in October 2021 by Refugees in Libya for migrants stuck in Libya; it is available 7 days a week, 24 hours a day.
‘The traffickers contacted us on our WhatsApp and filmed the torture’
“The traffickers don’t use their phones, they take the phones of migrants and call us with them,” said Yambio. This makes them impossible to track. They demand ransoms for their release, a widespread practice in Libya. “They have understood that their prisoners have no family to turn to for help. That is how we received the first videos. They called us and filmed the torture sessions.”
The town of Bani Walid is one of the most notorious stops along the migrant route. A Cameroonian named Issa said in 2017 that he had to “pray to God not be sold in a ghetto in Bani Walid.” Ibrahim, a Senegalese migrant, said in January 2020 that “Bani Walid [was] the worst place on earth.”
Yambio, a Sudanese refugee who spent several years in Libya and is now living in Italy, constantly reminds the public on social media about the unbearable living conditions in these Bani Walid jails.
“The migrants you see are all locked in one room. They have to relieve themselves in a bottle,” he said. “From the videos we receive, we guess that there are several rooms in the prison where they are locked up. But we are unable to say how many.”
Abuses documented by the media
Abuses against migrants are commonplace in Libya. In this country gripped by chaos since the fall of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, armed groups do not hesitate to kidnap migrants in the street, on the route towards Europe or even in their apartments; and film the torture they inflict on them with the aim of extorting money from their loved ones. It is also not uncommon for guards in official detention centers to sell the migrants to traffickers.
The media – including InfoMigrants – has documented these serious abuses before. In September 2022, the editorial team of InfoMigrants obtained images of a Sudanese teenager tortured in Libya by his jailers, who demanded a ransom. The kidnapping and torture took place in western Libya.
“The money… where is the money?” the torturer repeatedly asked. “You don’t have any money? I don’t believe you… Give me 5,000 [Libyan dinars, or around €1,000, editor’s note] and you can get out of here,” he said, while hitting the migrant with a stick and with his rifle. The torturer then pretended to reload his rifle, saying, “The next one will be in your head.”
The law is trying to put an end to the impunity of the torturers. Kidane Zekarias Habtemariam, an Eritrean people smuggler, was arrested in January 2023 in Sudan and deported to the United Arab Emirates. The man was known as the “world’s most wanted” human trafficker and was at the head of a criminal network that kidnapped, extorted and murdered East African migrants transiting through Libya in the hope of reaching Europe.
The Eritrean was an accomplice of another major trafficker, Tewelde Goitom, extradited last October to the Netherlands. He headed the official center in Bani Walid, in Libya. Nicknamed “Walid,” Tewelde Goitom was sentenced to 18 years in prison in May 2021 in Ethiopia.
Despite growing evidence of cases of mistreatment of migrants in Libya, the European Union has not stopped providing financial aid to the country. With the support of Brussels, Italy has been training the Libyan coast guard since 2017 and providing them with equipment to intercept as many migrants as possible as they cross the Mediterranean Sea on their way to Europe. A total of €32.6 million in four years has been allocated to Tripoli, according to the NGO Oxfam.