East African migrants escape from captors in Libyan smuggling hub

Photo showing a group of migrants transferred, off Libya coast on May 12, 2018. (AFP)
Updated 25 May 2018
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East African migrants escape from captors in Libyan smuggling hub

  • About 140 East African migrants escaped from smugglers holding them captive near the Libyan town of Bani Walid.
  • The UN agencies said hundreds more were reportedly still being held by smugglers in the area.

TRIPOLI, May 25 : About 140 East African migrants escaped from smugglers holding them captive near the Libyan town of Bani Walid earlier this week, according to a local source and a UN report.
The migrants, numbering about 140 and of Eritrean, Ethiopian and Somali nationality, were being held by “notorious trafficker Mousa Diab,” according to a statement by the UN migration and refugee agencies. Most sought refuge in a local mosque but about two dozen were brought to Bani Walid’s hospital with severe injuries, either from torture during captivity or efforts by smugglers to recapture them, the agencies said.
A Libyan source in Bani Walid said the smugglers opened fire on the migrants to try to prevent their escape. About 10 of them were injured, the source said, asking not to be named for fear of retribution.
The UN agencies said hundreds more were reportedly still being held by smugglers in the area.
Bani Walid, about 145 km (90 miles) south of Tripoli, has become a major hub for the smuggling and trafficking of migrants who arrive from sub-Saharan African countries trying to reach Libya’s Mediterranean coast.
From there, many seek to travel on toward Italy by boat, though crossings have been sharply reduced since last July when a major smuggling group in the Libyan coastal city of Sabratha struck a deal to halt departures under Italian pressure and was then forced out in clashes.
Libya’s EU-backed coast guard has also returned more migrants to Libya after intercepting them at sea.
Migrant community representatives have said smugglers are now operating further inland, especially around Bani Walid, and that migrants who are frequently tortured or raped in order to extort money from them or their families are being held for longer. (Reporting by Ahmed Elumami and Aidan Lewis Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)


UN to deliver aid to Syrians trapped near Jordan border

Updated 19 October 2018
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UN to deliver aid to Syrians trapped near Jordan border

  • An estimated 50,000 women, children and men are stranded at the Rukban camp in southeast Syria near the Iraqi and Jordanian border
  • Jordan has allowed several humanitarian aid deliveries to the area following UN requests, but the borders remain closed

DAMASCUS, Syria: The UN said it was organizing a joint aid convoy with the Syrian Arab Red Crescent to tens of thousands of Syrians stranded in the desert near the Jordanian border.

The world body said the convoy would deliver “humanitarian assistance to an estimated 50,000 women, children and men who are stranded at the Rukban camp in southeast Syria near the Iraqi and Jordanian border.”

“The overall humanitarian situation inside the Rukban camp is at a critical stage,” said Ali Al-Za’tari, the UN’s top official in Damascus.

Linda Tom, a spokeswoman for the UN’s humanitarian coordination office, OCHA, said the world body was “deeply concerned over the deteriorating humanitarian situation” at the camp.

A suicide bombing claimed by Daesh in June 2016 killed seven Jordanian soldiers in no-man’s land near the nearby Rukban crossing.

Soon afterwards, the army declared Jordan’s desert regions that stretch northeast to Syria and east to Iraq “closed military zones.”

The kingdom, part of the US-led coalition fighting Daesh, has allowed several humanitarian aid deliveries to the area following UN requests, but the borders remain closed. 

The camp, home to displaced people from across Syria, also lies close to the Al-Tanf base used by the US-led coalition fighting IS.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says the camp suffers from a severe lack of food and medicines, compounded by its remote desert location, the closure of the Jordanian border and regime forces cutting off all roads to it.

The last delivery of UN aid to Rukban took place in January 2018 through Jordan.

The UN children’s agency UNICEF last week urged warring parties in Syria to allow basic health service deliveries to the camp, saying two babies without access to hospitals had died there within 48 hours.

On Thursday, UN humanitarian aid expert Jan Egeland confirmed the regime had agreed to allow convoys of aid to the Rukban area.

He said Russian officials had told him Syria’s regime had withdrawn a controversial law that allowed for authorities to seize property left behind by civilians who fled fighting in the country’s civil war.

Egeland of the office of UN Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura also confirmed he will leave his post in November. 

He spoke a day after de Mistura told the UN Security Council that he is leaving for “personal” reasons.

The envoy said that he will make a final effort before stepping down next month to advance toward a new constitution for Syria — a key step in ending the country’s civil war.

De Mistura announced at the end of a Security Council briefing that he is leaving the job in late November for “purely, purely personal reasons” related to his family after four years and four months in one of the toughest UN jobs.

He told council members that objections by the Syrian government are still holding up the launch of the committee meant to draft a new constitution.

While there is agreement on the 50-member government and opposition delegations for the drafting committee, de Mistura said the government objects to a third 50-member delegation that the UN put together representing Syrian experts, civil society, independents, tribal leaders and women.

De Mistura said he has been invited to Damascus next week to discuss the committee’s formation.

He said he also intends to invite senior officials from Russia, Turkey and Iran — the guarantor states in the so-called “Astana process” aimed at ending the violence in Syria — to meet him in Geneva, and to talk to a group of key countries comprising Egypt, France, Germany, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Britain and the US.