More than 100 East African migrants escaped from smugglers holding them captive near the Libyan town of Bani Walid earlier last week, with some them wounded and reportedly killed in the process, a local source and humanitarian workers said.
The local source in Bani Walid and Doctors Without Borders (MSF) said the migrants were shot as they tried to flee. Survivors told MSF at least 15 people were killed and up to 40, mostly women, left behind.
MSF said in a statement it treated 25 migrants at Bani Walid hospital and some had severe gunshot wounds and multiple fractures.
The migrants, numbering about 140 and of Eritrean, Ethiopian and Somali nationality, were held by “notorious trafficker Mousa Diab”, according to a separate statement by the UN migration and refugee agencies.
They were mainly teenagers seeking asylum in Europe and reported being held by traffickers who sold them multiple times around Bani Walid and nearby Nesma, MSF said.
Bani Walid, south of Tripoli, has become a major hub for migrant smuggling and trafficking.
From there, many seek to travel on to Italy by boat, though crossings have sharply reduced since last July when a major smuggling group in Sabratha struck a deal to halt departures under Italian pressure and was then forced out in clashes.
Libya’s EU-backed coastguard returned more migrants to Libya after intercepting them at sea.
Migrant community representatives said smugglers are now operating further inland, especially around Bani Walid where they run clandestine prisons and migrants are frequently tortured or raped to extort money from them or their families are being held for longer.
“Kidnapping for ransom remains a thriving business, boosted by European Union-sponsored policies aimed at criminalising migrants and refugees and preventing them from reaching European shores at all cost,” MSF said.