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Libya: Once El Dorado, now hell for migrants

Young Somali migrants who were transferred to a detention centre in Al Khoms, Libya, after being rescued from a sinking vessel. Photo credit: Tom Westcott/IRIN.

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Patrick FORT

Agadez (Niger) (AFP) – Once an El Dorado for those seeking work and advancement, Libya has turned into the seventh circle of hell for migrants whose experiences range from exploitation verging on slavery to kidnapping and torture.

Back in the days when Moamer Kadhafi was leader, Africa’s second-largest oil producer was billed as a top destination for those looking for jobs and money.

But with the collapse of the Kadhafi regime in 2011, everything changed.

These days, those who have been there say Libya is in the grip of anarchy, controlled by a network of armed groups and militias, a place where African migrants are exposed to every form of abuse.

“Now Libya is bad, bad, bad,” said Ibrahim Ali, a native of Guinea-Bissau who has just returned to Agadez, the main city in central Niger which has become a revolving door for economic migrants from sub-Saharan Africa.

Exhausted by his trip back through the desert, this young man appears traumatised by the two years he spent working there.

“Guns, everywhere guns. It no good any more,” agrees Eric Manu, a 36-year-old bricklayer from Ghana who stayed there for several years.

“Too much problems.”

He said he left because of the unrest but also because wages had fallen by two-thirds and that he’d had problems being paid.

“You can work and they don’t pay you.”

– Scavenging at the abattoir –

“Too much thieves — sometimes they look for telephones, for money. If you don’t give (it to them), they can kill you, shoot you,” says Manu.

Originally from Abidjan in Ivory Coast, he was able to wire the money back home knowing full well there would be bandits waiting on the route back to Agadez, where he eventually arrived without a penny to his name.

Kante Sekou, a 27-year-old graduate, left Guinea in 2013 in the hope of getting to Europe.

But he gave up after reaching Libya where he spent a difficult time dodging both the police, who were arresting people, and the militias who were fighting each other.

He was finally taken on as a labourer on a construction site with a group of other migrants.

“It’s shite. We were paid 15 dinars ($11/10 euros) per day and we had to hand over five of that for food. But we never saw any money. We would sometimes go three or four weeks without being paid,” he said.

“The food ran out and we didn’t know what to do,” recalls Sekou, who holds a degree in communications studies.

“In one village, we had to go into an abattoir (to find food). We took the leftovers — camels’ feet and things like that which nobody wanted.

“It didn’t taste good but we had to do it.”

– Kidnapped for ransom –

One day, the workers were told the money had arrived, but Sekou wasn’t paid what he was owed so he upped and left, moving to Misrata in the west where he worked as a decorator.

He also had a run-in with bandits, who routinely kidnap migrants and lock them up in makeshift ‘prisons’ in order to extort a random.

“Once, I had to jump out of a moving car to escape from armed men who wanted to take me away,” he recalls.

Others weren’t so lucky, such as 26-year-old Ibrahim Kande from Senegal who says anyone earning money — which is usually sent home to support family — is targeted by bandits.

“If you earn money, the ‘boys’ (armed men) catch you, beat you, and put you in prison — not a normal prison, a private one,” he says,

“They lock you up and you have to pay between 200,000 and 500,000 CFA” to get out — the equivalent of 300-750 euros ($350-$850).

“They call your parents and you have to tell them ‘Send me the money or they’ll kill me’.”

The money is picked up in the home country by an intermediary who gives the green light to free the captive, according to a modus operandi confirmed by multiple migrants.

Then, through various murky channels, the money is transferred to Libya.

– ‘Can’t sleep, always afraid’ –

“They hit me many times, they kicked me, stabbed me,” says Kande, showing scars on his forehead and on his leg.

“They robbed me three times. You can’t sleep, you’re always afraid. I suffered a lot.”

Balde Aboubakar Sikiki from Kindia, a city in Guinea, was also kidnapped and held in a private prison.

“They look like normal houses from the outside, but there are rooms where they lock you up. There are many people in there,” says this 35-year-old.

He also says he was tortured before paying the ransom to get out.

“They take you out of the cell and they beat you on the soles of your feet with batons or cables,” he says.

Such stories are rife among those who have returned from Libya.

Even so, there many people in Agadez who remain undeterred by such horror stories.

“It will make the journey more expensive because it’s dangerous, but in the end, it’s always the migrants who pay,” shrugs one.

Human Rights

Somalia: Satellite imagery reveals devastation amid forced evictions of thousands who fled conflict and drought

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New satellite imagery analysis by Amnesty International gives the first comprehensive view of how thousands of structures, including several schools, were demolished in sudden forced evictions that left more than 4,000 families homeless on the outskirts of Somalia’s capital Mogadishu in late December.

No warning was given before armed men accompanied bulldozers to raze the sites on 29 and 30 December 2017, according to UNICEF and Save the Children. UN agencies have said the forced evictions left more than 24,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) homeless, including 3,000 children.

Amnesty International’s analysis of satellite images from before, during and after the demolitions clearly shows that thousands of structures were turned to rubble over the course of the two-day operation. A UN humanitarian official said that basic infrastructure including latrines, schools and community centres were destroyed.

“These satellite images give a bird’s-eye view of the shocking scale of these forced evictions that destroyed the possessions, dwellings and livelihoods of thousands of vulnerable families,” said Sarah Jackson, Amnesty International’s Deputy Regional Director for East Africa, the Horn and the Great Lakes.

These satellite images give a bird’s-eye view of the shocking scale of these forced evictions that destroyed the possessions, dwellings and livelihoods of thousands of vulnerable families.
Sarah Jackson, Amnesty International’s Deputy Regional Director for East Africa, the Horn and the Great Lakes

“Forced evictions are always a human rights violation and inevitably put people who are already in a very vulnerable situation at even greater risk. What makes these demolitions particularly cruel is that many of the thousands of people affected had only recently sought protection in Mogadishu after fleeing insecurity, drought and impending famine elsewhere in Somalia.”

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Briefing Room

Somalia: Al-Shabab Demanding Children

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(Nairobi) – The Islamist armed group Al-Shabab has threatened and abducted civilians in Somalia’s Bay region to force communities to hand over their children for indoctrination and military training in recent months.

Since late September 2017, Al-Shabab has ordered elders, teachers in Islamic religious schools, and communities in rural areas to provide hundreds of children as young as 8 or face attack. The armed group’s increasingly aggressive child recruitment campaign started in mid-2017 with reprisals against communities that refused. In recent months, hundreds of children, many unaccompanied, have fled their homes to escape forced recruitment.

“Al-Shabab’s ruthless recruitment campaign is taking rural children from their parents so they can serve this militant armed group,” said Laetitia Bader, senior Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch. “To escape that cruel fate, many children have fled school or their homes.”

Over the past decade, Al-Shabab has recruited thousands of children for indoctrination and to become frontline fighters. Since 2015, the armed group has opened several large Islamic religious schools in areas under their control, strengthened indoctrination methods including by bringing in younger children, and pressured teachers to retrain and teach Al-Shabab’s curriculum in schools.

On a recent trip to Baidoa, the capital of Bay region, Human Rights Watch spoke to 15 residents from three districts in Bay region largely under Al-Shabab control – Berdale, Baidoa, and Burhakaba districts – as well as child protection advocates and United Nations officials. The findings match similar trends in other parts of the country since mid-2017.

Village elders said that in September Al-Shabab ordered them to go to Al-Shabab-controlled Bulo Fulay and to hand over dozens of children ages 9 to 15. A resident of Berdale district said: “They said we needed to support their fight. They spoke to us in a very threatening manner. They also said they wanted the keys to our boreholes [watering points]. They kept us for three days. We said we needed to consult with our community. They gave us 10 days.” Two other community residents said that they received threatening calls, including death threats, after the 10 days ran out, but as of late 2017 they had not handed over the children.

Three residents said that in September Al-Shabab fighters forcibly took at least 50 boys and girls from two schools in Burhakaba district and transported them to Bulo Fulay, which witnesses say hosts a number of religious schools and a major training facility. Two weeks later, a large group of armed Al-Shabab fighters with their faces covered returned to the village, entered another local school, and threatened and beat the teacher to hand over children.

“They wanted 25 children ages 8 to 15,” said the teacher, who resisted the order. “They didn’t say why, but we know that it’s because they want to indoctrinate them and then recruit them. After they hit me, some of the children started crying and tried to run out of the classroom. But the fighters were all around. They caned a 7-year-old boy who tried to escape.”

Residents from Berdale district said that in at least four villages, Al-Shabab abducted elders who refused to hand over children. In one village, three elders were released only after they agreed to hand over eight boys from their village.
In May, Al-Shabab pressured elders and other residents in villages in central Somalia’s Mudug and Galgadud regions – from which Ethiopian military forces had recently withdrawn – to hand over children ages 7 to 15. A boy who fled Middle Shabelle region without his parents said: “Our school wasn’t controlled by Al-Shabab. Six weeks ago [late June], they came to our school, took down our names, and took two boys. The teacher managed to escape. They threatened that next time they would come back for us.”

A woman in Burhakaba district said that her four children had witnessed 25 of their classmates being abducted from their school: “The four of them are now so worried about going to school. But if they don’t go to school, and get the fundamentals of the religion, they will go to waste.” Some local religious schools in Bay region are closing fearing further attacks, or because the teachers have fled or been abducted.

Some residents said that their only option to protect their children was to send them, often unaccompanied, to areas outside of Al-Shabab control – a difficult and dangerous journey given the threat of Al-Shabab abduction along the way. Community elders and local monitors said the recruitment campaign has forced approximately 500 people as of October, often unaccompanied children, to flee their homes to Baidoa.

“I heard that children were being captured in neighboring villages and so got very scared,” said a 15-year-old who fled by foot with his 9-year-old brother to the nearest town. “My parents gave me money to come to Baidoa. My brother and I were very scared of being captured along the way, since we went through the bush.”

In August, an official from Adale in Middle Shabelle told the media that his community was hosting approximately 500 children ages 10 to 15 who had fled forced recruitment in Galgudud, Hiran and Middle Shabelle districts. Some children have fled to towns where they have relatives, others end up in dire conditions in internally displaced persons (IDP) camps. Local groups estimate that over half of the children recently displaced to Baidoa now live in IDP settlements. But unaccompanied children, especially those in informal camps, are unlikely to find security or schooling and may be forced to work to survive.

“The government with UN agency assistance should ensure that displaced children, including those without adult guardians, receive protection and appropriate schooling,” Bader said. “Children should not flee one danger zone for a new one.”

The UN Security Council’s Somalia Eritrea Monitoring Group (SEMG) reported that in June, Al-Shabab detained 45 elders in El Bur who refused to provide them with 150 children and only released them on the condition that the children would be handed over. The SEMG found that 300 children were abducted from the area during this period and taken to an Al-Shabab school.

In April Al-Shabab announced over its radio station that it was introducing a new curriculum for primary and secondary schools and warned teachers and schools against “foreign teachings.” A Bay region resident said that Al-Shabab took a dozen teachers for “retraining” around April, and they were only released after paying about US$300 per person. In certain areas, Al-Shabab ordered schools to shut down and communities to send their teachers to Al-Shabab curriculum training seminars, SEMG reported.

Human Rights Watch did not find clear evidence that children abducted in recent drives were taken directly for military training, but interviewees repeatedly raised the concern. The UN monitoring group reported that some of the schools set up by Al-Shabab were linked to military training facilities. Child abductions, notably from schools, and children’s use as fighters by Al-Shabab significantly increased in the second quarter of 2017, the UN monitoring group said. Boys who had been associated with Al-Shabab since late 2015 said that the religious schools and teachers were often used to recruit boys as fighters. These boys said their military training included a mixture of rudimentary weapons training and ideological indoctrination.

The Somali government has taken some steps to protect schools and students, Human Rights Watch said. In 2016 it endorsed the Safe Schools Declaration, an international commitment by countries to do more to ensure that schools are safe places for children, even during war. Somalia has signed but not yet ratified the UN Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on children in armed conflict, which states that armed groups “should not, under any circumstances, recruit or use in hostilities persons under the age of 18 years.”

The government, with the help of international donors, should wherever possible identify Al-Shabab recruitment drives, including their location, scale, and use of educational institutions, that could inform protective measures, Human Rights Watch said. Doing so would also help efforts to assist displaced children, such as addressing their health, shelter, and security needs and providing them free primary education and access to secondary education, as well as appropriate psychosocial support.

“Al-Shabab’s campaign only adds to the horrors of Somalia’s long conflict, both for the children and their families,” said Bader. “The group should immediately stop abducting children and release all children in their ranks. The Somali government should ensure these children are not sent into harm’s way.”

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Human Rights

Not enough being done to shield civilians from violence in Somalia – UN report

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The armed conflict in Somalia continues to exact a heavy toll on civilians, damaging infrastructure and livelihoods, displacing millions of people, and impeding access to humanitarian relief for communities in need, according to a United Nations report launched today in the country’s capital, Mogadishu.

“Ultimately, civilians are paying the price for failure to resolve Somalia’s conflicts through political means,” said the UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Somalia, Michael Keating. “And parties to the conflict are simply not doing enough to shield civilians from the violence. This is shameful.”

The report – “Protection of Civilians: Building the Foundation for Peace, Security and Human Rights in Somalia” – covers the period from 1 January 2016 to 14 October 2017, and was produced by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and the UN Assistance Mission in Somalia (UNSOM), which Mr. Keating also heads.

During this reporting period, UNSOM documented a total of 2,078 civilian deaths and 2,507 injuries, with 60 per cent of the casualties attributed to Al Shabaab militants, 13 per cent to clan militias, 11 per cent to State actors, including the army and the police, four per cent to the African Union Mission to Somalia (AMISOM), and 12 per cent to unidentified or undetermined attackers.

Civilians were the victims of unlawful attacks – by being directly targeted and through the use of indiscriminate bomb and suicide attacks – by non-State groups. Such attacks, which are prohibited under international human rights and humanitarian laws, are, in most cases, likely to constitute war crimes, and it is imperative that perpetrators are identified and held accountable, the report notes.
The worst incident on a single day was the twin bomb blasts in Mogadishu on 14 October, attributed to Al-Shabaab by Somali government officials and in which at least 512 people are officially recorded to have died as of 1 December, along with 316 injured. The attack received widespread condemnation, including from UNSOM and Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.

“This barbaric act was the deadliest attack with an improved explosive device in Somalia’s history and surely one of the worst ever on the continent, if not the world,” said Special Representative Keating at the report’s launch. “Sadly, its impact will be felt for a long time.”

A significant number of recorded civilian casualties – 251 killed and 343 injured – was attributed to clan militias, in areas where federal or state security forces are largely absent. “The drought has intensified clan conflict due to competition over resources. These conflicts are exploited by anti-government elements to further destabilize areas, diminish prospects for lasting peace and weaken civilian protection,” the report states.

Casualties attributed to State actors and AMISOM

It goes on to note that the number of casualties attributed to the Somali National Army and Police, as well as to AMISOM, was significantly smaller than those attributed to Al Shabaab militants.

“Nevertheless, such casualties are of utmost concern as they undermine the Somali population’s trust in the Government and the international community, which in turn expands the space in which anti-government elements continue to operate,” said the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein.

“While achieving the balance between human rights and security is challenging,” he added, “the respect of human rights and the protection of civilians are essential as the foundation of a strong, legitimate State that works for the benefit of all its people.”

Somalia’s National Intelligence and Security Agency routinely disregards international human rights law when carrying out arrests and detentions, according to the report, which adds that journalists and people suspected of belonging to Al Shabaab are often detained without charge.

The report also flags that information on the conditions of people living under Al Shabaab control is scant. Verifying human rights violations and abuses in those areas remains problematic due to the lack of access and fear of reprisals.

Somalia has been plagued by armed violence for decades, as well as poverty, marginalization, natural hazards, insecurity and political instability.

UNSOM is working with the East African country’s authorities to support national reconciliation, provide strategic and policy advice on various aspects of peacebuilding and state-building, monitor and report on the human rights situation, and help coordinate the efforts of the international community.

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