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.
Somaliland poet jailed for three years in crackdown on writers
A poet has been sentenced to three years in prison in Somaliland as part of a wide-ranging crackdown against activists and writers.
Naima Abwaan Qorane, 27, was jailed on Sunday for “anti-national activity of a citizen and bringing the nation or state in contempt”.
Prosecutors said she had expressed opinions on social media that undermined the semi-autonomous state’s claim to full independence.
In a second case on Monday, the same court sentenced Mohamed Kayse Mohamoud, a 31-year-old author, to 18 months in prison on charges of “offending the honour of the president.”
The case against Mohamoud was based on a Facebook post saying the “president is a local”, according to the charge sheet seen by activists.
It was offensive to the president because the president was “a national president” and not a local official, the presiding judge said.
Somaliland, a former British protectorate, declared unilateral independence from Somalia in 1991 as the regime of Mohamed Siad Barre collapsed, but has not been recognised as a fully autonomous state by the international community.
It is effectively self-governing with its own elections, constitution, courts and currency. President Muse Bihi Abdi was elected last year.
Since December there has been a series of arrests and detentions of activists, bloggers and writers. Local human rights workers say at least 12 journalists have been detained, some for up to three weeks.
“The detention of my client was illegal, the charges made against her are politically motivated and the sentence is unfair,” Qorane’s lawyer, Mubarik Abdi Ismail, said. “The the judge was not independent and therefore he could not deliver a free trial.”
He said the poet had been threatened during her interrogation. “On one night while Naima Qorane was in [police] detention in Hargeisa, two hooded men entered her cell and threatened that they will rape her if she would not provide passwords of her mobile phone and her social media pages particularly her Facebook. They took all passwords,” he said.
“In March, two [police] and intelligence officers came to Qorane’s cell and demanded her to tell everything and confess her crimes … they threatened that they will bring very strong men who would rape her, and then that they would kill her and dump her body into unknown place. They returned the second night and put a loaded pistol of her forehead and threatened that was her last minute in life.”
Qorane was also denied visits from her family for a number of weeks after her father spoke to the media and, though held for political offences, she was not separated from other detainees. She is now being held in Gabiley women’s prison.
Ahmed Hussein Qorane, Naima’s father, said he was given only limited access to visit his daughter and was not surprised by the sentence. “My daughter is innocent … She has nothing to do with what they alleged. She must be released without condition. They did not allow her to see a doctor. She has bad toothache. They beat her in the detention and her left knee is swollen while she has an injury on her thumb,” he said.
Much of Qorane’s poetry evokes the lost unity of Somalia, but does not explicitly mention Somaliland or its future, supporters say. She read her works at a TEDx conference in the Somali capital, Mogadishu, last year.
Guleid Ahmed Jama, the chair of the Human Rights Centre-Hargeisa Somaliland, said the imprisonment of Qorane and Mahamoud were contrary to the constitution.
“This shows that the judiciary is being used to suppress critical voices. We are very concerned about the judiciary’s acts that are putting people behind bars for expressing their opinion. Somaliland is a democracy. We have a very good constitution. The government needs to respect that constitution,” he said.
Qorane said in 2016 that she had received death threats and been warned to leave Somaliland. “If it happens – though I am not expecting it – jail was built for people not for animals … I will be released one day and the prison experience is not going to change my views,” she said in a local media interview.
There has been no official statement from the Somaliland authorities.
— U.S. Mission-Somalia (@US2SOMALIA) February 12, 2018
Said Abdi Hassan, an activist in Somaliland, said Qorane’s sentence was unfair. “She was detained because of her views which everybody has the right to express without fear,” he said. “How can a country claim to be seeking recognition while they disregard rights of the people.
“But we want to tell Naima that even if she is jailed forever, her views will be active. She is a role model for many of our youth by calling for unity and against tribalism.”
Officials contacted in Somaliland said they were unable to comment on the case.
Additional reporting by Abdalle Ahmed Mumin
Somaliland: Female poet jailed over unity calls
MIDDLE EAST MONITOR — A court in Somaliland has sentenced a female poet to three-years in jail after she called for unity with Somalia amid ongoing regional tensions, Garowe Online reported yesterday.
Naciima Abwaan Qorane was arrested in January at Igal International Airport upon her return from Somalia’s capital Mogadishu where prosecutors claimed she had recited poetry calling for unity.
Qorane was charged by police in Somaliland with “anti-national activity and violating the sovereignty and succession of Somaliland”. Somaliland’s prosecution claimed that Qorane called Somaliland a “region” and “insulted and defamed” the government.
Read: Somalia’s quandary with UAE: A port in Somaliland
“We are very concerned about the conviction and sentence of Naima. Freedom of expression is enshrined and protected by the Constitution of Somaliland,” Guled Ahmed Jama, the director of Human Rights Centre, said.
A breakaway, semi-desert territory on the coast of the Gulf of Aden, Somaliland declared independence from Somalia in 1991.
In a recent struggle for power between the two states, Somalia rejected a $422 million tripartite port agreement between Ethiopia, Somaliland and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) logistics port company DP World as “null and void”.
Tensions escalated when the UAE went ahead with the port deal despite strong opposition. Somalia’s members of parliament voted for a law to officially ban DP World last month.
Refugees in Indonesia selling sex to survive
AAP — Homeless mother-of-three, Nimo, fled to Indonesia from Somalia after Islamists killed her family, but with prostitution as the only way to survive, she tearily says her life in Jakarta is “much harder” than her war-torn homeland.
Indonesia has traditionally been a transit nation for asylum seekers but in recent months the UNHCR has been meeting with refugees to tell them they’ll probably never be resettled somewhere else.
That means people such as Nimo face the prospect of spending much longer in the country than they first anticipated. And, for many women, it means working as they’d never imagined – in the sex trade.
Melbourne-based Human Rights Law Centre spokesman Daniel Webb says the suffering of refugees on our Australia’s doorstep exposes the cruelty of the government’s obsession with so-called deterrence.
“The people our government secretly turns back or frightens away don’t just vanish off the face of the earth – they’re being forced to suffer elsewhere,” he tells AAP.
Nimo, a 32-year-old Somalian refugee, was forced into hiding after the local refugee community discovered she was working as a prostitute.
Some in the conservative Muslim neighbourhood threatened her harm for betraying Islam’s teachings.
The homeless mother says she’s ashamed of the work and is often beaten by men.
“I would like to stop but I have no options,” Nimo tells AAP.
“If I don’t there will be no food for my family.”
Nimo has fallen through the aid safety net.
Some two-thirds of the 13,800 asylum seekers and refugees in Indonesia are dependent on aid or live in government-run immigration detention centres, according to the UN Refugee Agency.
They’re not allowed to work or access social security.
Many sleep in the streets near Jakarta’s already-full immigration detention centre or queue – day after day – at the UNHCR office seeking help.
Others drift from one boarding house to the next begging for food. Some sleep on the steps of a local mosque.
“I could never have imagined this life before,” Nimo says. “There is no hope. I have children and I am a prostitute. This is a really bad life. It’s much harder than Somalia.”
Nimo fled Somalia with her children after Islamists stoned her younger sister to death and then turned their guns on the rest of her family. She was shot during one attack.
Her 10-day journey through Dubai and Kuala Lumpur, and across the Malacca Strait, ended after a two-day bus ride to the Indonesian capital in 2015.
Her appeals for help from NGOs and the UNHCR have been refused.
During a recent interview – to discuss her sex work – no assistance was offered. Instead, she was lectured about breaking local laws, and the health risks of prostitution.
UNHCR Indonesia representative Thomas Vargas says recent humanitarian emergencies – such the Rohingya crisis in Bangladesh – mean money earmarked for Indonesia is being redirected.
“When there are those types of flashpoints, that’s where the limited funding the UNHCR has globally goes,” he tells AAP.
For refugees in Indonesia, aid is now even harder to come by.
“You have limited funding and you have to help the neediest. That’s the harsh reality. It’s a very tough situation,” Vargas says.
At night refugee women living on the street risk sexual violence.
Refugee Suad, 27, lives in a tight network of laneways near Jakarta’s central shopping district.
The Somalian says men regularly try to force refugee women to go with them for sex.
“When we sleep on the street, West African businessman come to this area. They threaten us and touch us and we are powerless to stop them,” she tells AAP.
“If you don’t say yes they say they can beat you. But I say no, I’m a Muslim, I can’t do it. I am hungry and I want money, but I can’t do that.”
Fear of being labelled a prostitute or shunned causes many women to hide their abuse.
Suad’s family was killed by a bomb in Mogadishu. She says she was abducted, raped and held captive by militants.
After she escaped a local mosque raised the money needed to pay people smugglers.
Suad says in Somalia rape victims are often accused of being prostitutes and are sent away so as not to shame their family or community.
But now, out of desperation, she’s now considering going with men.
“When you don’t have food, when you don’t have shelter, life becomes very hard and that is the only option,” she says.
Mr Vargas says “survival sex” is common among refugees who don’t receive aid or have family to protect them.
“When you are not able to make a living you resort, unfortunately, to these types of survival techniques and that’s a risk refugees have here,” he admits.
Asylum seekers and refugees across the archipelago are protesting their treatment.
But the fact is the UNHCR deals with 65.6 million refugees and forcibly displaced people globally.
The crisis is unlike any seen since World War II, according to Mr Vargas. It’s stretched aid budgets and led to tougher immigration policies in key resettlement nations.
US President Donald Trump’s executive order on immigration and Australia’s policy of refusing refugees from Indonesia if they arrived after mid-2014 are clear examples, he says.
It’s created “unpredictability in the (resettlement) system” and left refugees stranded.
Immigration policies based on deterrence and criminalisation – rather than protection and human rights – came under the spotlight at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva in March.
UN special rapporteur Nils Melzer says government policies – rather than criminal activity, corruption and dangerous travel – are the major cause of abuses inflicted on refugees.