Undocumented immigrants in Libya. Photo sent by our Observer.

One of our Observer spoke to undocumented immigrants, many from Sudan, who had just crossed through Libya and were about to try their luck reaching Europe. They described how illegal immigration in Southern Libya has become big business for local militia groups.

The question of illegal immigration is not a new one for Libya. Back in 2007, the European Union offered assistance to then-president Muammar Gaddafi to help control his country’s desert borders in the east. Gaddafi ended the programme after the outbreak of the uprising against his regime in March 2011.

Since then, the situation has only deteriorated. Libya’s land and sea borders are under little or no surveillance. The central government, which already appears incapable of stabilising the country and controlling the many armed militias, seems equally unable to monitor its borders.

The immigrants after their arrest. 

“The militias are implicated in this human trafficking”

Moussa El Maghrebi lives in the coastal village of Ajdabia, located 160 kilometres southwest of Benghazi. He filmed and took pictures of the arrest of a group of undocumented immigrants by forces from the Libyan Interior Ministry.

There were several dozen undocumented immigrants, including women and children. They had been travelling in vehicles made to look like they were carrying hay. About 70 kilometres from Ajdabiya, the vehicles were stopped and inspected and the migrants were found. The vehicles were Libyan and had Libyan drivers.

Most of these migrants came from Sudan, Ethiopia, Chad, and Somalia. They had crossed over Libya’s southern border. There were also a few Egyptians, who had crossed the border in the southeast for about 8000 Egyptian pounds [823 euros]. The main migration route goes from the southern Libyan city of Kufra all the way to Ajdabiya. There, the groups separate. Some migrants stay there while others go to the west towards Sirte or Tripoli. Their goal is to reach the ports so that they can then set sail for Malta or Lampedusa.

The itinerary between Kufra and Ajdabja.

"Some stay to work illegally in Libya"
These migrants had already been travelling for five days without running into any trouble. Those who came from Sudan were brought to the Libyan border by Sudanese smugglers before being handed over to Libyan smugglers.

That zone is not generally controlled by the army. Surveillance of the southern border is mostly in the hands of militias who, instead of stopping the passage of undocumented immigrants, turn it into a business. They let convoys pass if they pay a bribe. That’s why, these days, the authorities have lost all control in the struggle against undocumented immigration. To really put an end to this, first we must resolve the problem of the militias that are holding the country hostage.

When they are stopped, the migrants who have identity papers are expatriated if there are direct flights between Libya and their country of origin. Otherwise, they are brought to special camps, the closest of which is in Benghazi. But often, they are let go because keeping them is costly for the state. Most try to continue their journey and cross into Europe, despite the dangers. The rest stay and work illegally in Libya. This might seem crazy, considering the insecurity that reigns here, but these people are ready for any kind of sacrifice to help their families.

Since the beginning of this year, more than 217 people have drowned off the Libyan coast while attempting to cross the Mediterranean, according to the UN Agency for Refugees (UNHCR). More than 22,000 African immigrants came to Italy by boat between January and May 2014. On July 10, during a meeting with EU ambassadors, the Libyan Prime Minister proposed the creation of a regional conference to address the issue of undocumented immigration.

Somali and Sudanese migrants being questioned by security forces. 

Migrants getting out of the truck.

Post written with FRANCE 24 journalist Sarra Grira (@SarraGrira).