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  • Rory O'Keeffe

Refugees forced to Europe by Libyan chaos, slavery

Refugees in Italy note that they had no real intention of coming to Europe, until they experienced the chaos in Libya, and realised they could not stay there.

This has been a common factor in people’s decision to travel to the EU from Libya since the state’s first civil war began in February 2011. Though some of the people I met in the state, and in Tunisia, in 2011-12 – particularly those who travelled from the East of sub-Saharan Africa (those who made the journey through Sudan) – said that they had been told they could reach the EU from Libya, in fact most intended to stay in Libya, and even some who had decided to go to the EU changed their minds when they arrived in the North African state and began to see the opportunity to work and build lives there.

The war made that impossible.

Today, Libya has two governments, neither with legitimacy, and a three-sided civil war is now half-way through its fourth year. The state is overrun with illegal militias, who not only provide ‘security’ but are also engaged in the entire refugee situation, in many cases kidnapping and ransoming refugees, in others raping, torturing and murdering them.

Amidou Kone, a 23 year-old now in Follonica, Italy, is a refugee from Ivory Coast. But he never intended to come to the EU.

He left Ivory Coast after his family was killed in a raid during the state’s civil war of 2011. He went to Burkina Faso, and then moved to Niger, where he worked as a shepherd for a farmer. On a trip to Libya with the farmer, he believes he was sold to a militia.

He said: ‘They wanted me to call my family for ransom. They didn’t want to believe that everyone had died so they started torturing me. They tried to cut off my finger with a knife and then they wanted to beat my foot with a flashlight. Why so much cruelty? I don’t have the faintest idea.’

When they finally accepted his story, they forced him into slavery, making him work as a mason for two years, feeding him only bread and water. When he became too weak to work, the militia’s members took him to the coast, and put him on a boat to Europe.

Anaspasia Papadopoulou, senior policy advisor at the European Council for Refugees and Exiles, said: ‘Refugees are nothing but commodities. Militias use them to make a profit. When they are no longer useful, they need to get rid of them.’

So far this year, 114,112 refugees have travelled from Libya to Italy. 2,174 people have died on the crossing.

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