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UN: Human smuggling on the rise in N. Africa as migration explodes

UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) in Geneva says the flow of migrants from Libya to Italy will not decrease any time soon, a senior UN refugee official said on Monday.

The senior UN refugee official, Vincent Cochetel, however pointed to the growing smuggling industry in the North African country.

According to the UNHCR, so far this year, 84,830 migrants travelled across the Mediterranean to Italy, a 19-per-cent increase on the same period in 2016.

“There is no slowing down of movement to Libya, which may mean that a larger number of people may continue to try to leave through the central Mediterranean route,’’ Cochetel said.

The French expert was recently appointed as the UNHCR’s special envoy for the route, which accounts for most of the migration to Europe, and for the vast majority of migration from Africa to Europe.

“While 30 per cent of the people who cross the Mediterranean are refugees who flee from conflicts or persecution, 70 per cent are economic migrants,’’ he said.

According to a new study on Libya that the UNHCR presented in Geneva, the typical migrant who travels through Libya is a young single male from an African country, has a low level of education and is searching for a better livelihood.

However, interviews with migrants revealed that around half of the people who arrive in Libya initially do not want to go on to Europe, but want to stay in the North African country to work.

Most of them are from the neighbouring countries Niger, Chad, Sudan or Egypt, seeking work on farms, construction sites and in trade.

“However, the lack of stability, security and rule of law, the economic crisis and widespread abuse and exploitation pushes some of them to also attempt to reach Europe,’’ the report pointed out.

In Libya, many migrants faced extortion, robberies, forced labour or sexual exploitation at the hands of their smugglers.

The collapse of Libya’s justice system has allowed various armed groups, criminal gangs and individuals to take part in these crimes.

In addition, the economic situation in southern Libya, the main entry region for migrants, is deteriorating, and people smuggling has become the main source of income.

“The smuggling industry is currently undergoing rapid expansion in Libya,” said the study that was carried out for the UNHCR by the French research firm Altai Consulting and the Swiss think tank Impact.

In addition, smuggling networks have become more professional and integrated, with smugglers from the migrants’ home countries cooperating with Libyan groups.

“Reports indicate the same trucks that bring people from Niger into Libya carry weapons destined for Mali when they return.

“We are talking about a multinational criminal enterprise,’’ Cochetel said.

Altai researcher Marie-Cecile Darme estimated the number of transiting and settled migrants and refugees in Libya at between 1 million and 2.5 million.

He said apart from migrants from neighbouring countries, people from West African countries such as Nigeria or Guinea have formed the biggest group.

In contrast, arrivals from East African countries such as Eritrea or Somalia have decreased.

(Source: dpa/NAN)

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