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On the trail of African migrant smugglers


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Der Spiegel’s English-language website has a detailed investigative report on the lucrative migrant-smuggling business in Africa. The report uncovers key smuggling routes from East Africa to Germany, and describes the brutal, inhuman conditions that migrants endure on their journey abroad. Here’s an excerpt:

There are many migrant smugglers who brag openly about their excellent relations with the Libyan police and claim that they can even get anyone out of prison simply by buying off law enforcement officers. When asked about such claims, Hussam says that the phenomenon doubtlessly exists in Libya, but not within his unit.

“Ermias is an Ethiopian with Eritrean citizenship and dresses inconspicuously in jeans and a T-shirt,” says Yonas, a former intermediary for Ghermay who stands almost two meters (6’ 7") tall. Ever since Tarik al-Sika arrested him at his workplace – in the cafeteria of the Eritrean Embassy in Tripoli – several months ago, Yonas, whose name was changed for this story, has been cooperating with Libyan special forces. On the day of our visit, he was presented as an important witness. Yonas says that he used to earn 50 dinars, around 30 euros ($33), for every Eritrean refugee he referred to Ghermay – and that some of them were aboard the vessel that sank off the coast of Lampedusa. On the night of the accident, Yonas says, “Ermias slid a passenger list under the door of the Eritrean Embassy so that their families could be informed” – a cold-blooded move that Ghermay is proud of, according to the logs of intercepted phone calls. The relatives of the victims, most of whom came from Eritrea, were thus promptly “informed,” he gloated. It’s the kind of gesture that is good for business.

“Immediately afterwards, I called him and set up a meeting in the cafeteria. I wanted to get him to pay compensation to the families,” Yonas says. “He actually turned up, but in the end, he only returned the price for the voyage. Nobody got any more than that.”

The refugees have only themselves to blame for their deaths, Ghermay said in a telephone call to a migrant smuggler from Sudan, adding that they didn’t follow his instructions and carelessly caused the boat to capsize. He insisted that he had a clear conscience. “If I followed the rules and they died anyway, then it’s fate,” Ghermay said.

The man from Sudan agreed: “There is no appeal against God’s judgment.”

Image: The remains of a refugee boat seen on the beach in Zuwara, Libya in August of 2016. Via Der Spiegel.