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2 Apr, 2020 17:06

Modern-day slavery, corruption & deaths: RT doc looks into desperate African migrant journeys to Europe through Libya

Modern-day slavery, corruption & deaths: RT doc looks into desperate African migrant journeys to Europe through Libya

Hundreds of thousands of migrants are risking slavers and the treacherous waters of the Mediterranean in rubber dinghies to get to Europe – and many ultimately end up at hands of organized crime even there, RTD's new film shows.

In 2019, the flow of migrants out of Africa reached a whopping 36 million people – and around one third of them are heading for Europe. The largest flow of modern African migration funnels through a single country: Libya.

Trying to flee war and poverty, migrants hope that it will simply be a stopover on their way to Italy and then further into Europe. But more often than not, they are met by human traffickers, who sell them off as slaves.

The slave trade is a grim reality of today’s Libya, where the chaos of the civil war allowed smuggling networks to thrive, opening up a lucrative market where humans are traded like other goods and commodities.

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“Members of the African mafia promised them a safe and quick passage to Europe. They <…> leave from their country, but once they arrive in Libya, <…> they are enslaved so they can’t reach Europe. They can even spend two or three years in Libya as slaves,” explains Michelangelo Severgnini, creator of the 'Exodus – Escape from Libya' audio project, which documents the stories of African migrants.

The lucky ones whose relatives manage to buy them out continue their perilous journey to Italy on overcrowded rubber boats, unfit for stormy seas. Also, it turns out the slavery threat is far from over for them. According to UN Migration Agency statistics, more than 20,000 people have lost their lives in Mediterranean crossings between 2014 and 2020. But the numbers would have been even higher had it not been for Sicilian coast guards and the boats of non-profit rescue organizations saving dozens of people each day.

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However, in Italy there is a widespread claim that NGO search and rescue activity has been a pull factor for migrants counting on being safely escorted to shore. In 2018, based on that assumption, former Interior Minister Matteo Salvini closed the Italian ports to NGO boats carrying migrants. But when the government changed, so did the policy.

“Since September 2019, and the change of government, the number of migrants has tripled. Tripled! More than a 300% increase!” he said in a recent interview. Video blogger Luca Donadel believes that – contrary to official information – most of the migrants’ boats are being “rescued” not near Sicilian shores, but in Libyan waters. His own investigation, using tracking data from the website marinetraffic.com, demonstrated that, judging by their movement, NGO ships are routinely directed to the “rescue spots” near the coasts of Libya. He also claims that “there is evidence that some NGOs are in contact with human traffickers.”

Several investigations by the Italian police have also uncovered the links forged by the Sicilian mafia with some North African smugglers, arranging for the delivery of boatloads of refugees.

As for the mafia, it profits greatly from newly arrived migrants. It reportedly has a hand in running migrant and refugee reception centers and stealing millions of euros in public funds intended for asylum seekers. On top of that, criminal groups recruit migrants from the camps for low-paid labor, their wages being part of the shady economy.

To learn more about the tangle of concerns surrounding the situation with the influx of migrants into Italy, watch the new documentary 'Desperate Straits' on RT’s YouTube page.

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