On Africa’s Human Trafficking Trail

by ptinti

Wall Street Journal

Ibrahim and his colleagues, none older than 40, are smugglers who specialize in the transport of a very specific commodity: humans.

AGADEZ, Niger — It’s 8 a.m., and Ibrahim is chain-smoking in a clandestine flophouse with his new business partners, Adam, Ahmed, Barka and Sidi. They sit on a cheap plastic mat that does little to soften the concrete floor. As soon as one of them finishes a cigarette, another tosses the communal pack in his direction. When one carton is kicked, a new one is ripped open without hesitation.

Ibrahim grew up in southern Libya, where he attended university in the town of Kufra. After earning his degree in agricultural engineering, he landed a job at a large-scale farm. He lived comfortably off his salary and even saved enough to open a shop that sold canned goods, bottled drinks and American Legend cigarettes.

But on the stifling Tuesday morning that I meet him, Ibrahim is in the darkest corner of a filthy room in Agadez, Niger, 1,000 miles across the Sahara from Kufra and a world away from his previous life in Moammar Gadhafi’s Libya.

“Did you tell him there are no human rights in Libya?” a fidgety Ibrahim asks my translator. “Tell him human rights do not exist in Libya,” he insists, glaring at my notebook to make sure I am writing something down.

Ibrahim and his colleagues, none older than 40, are smugglers who specialize in the transport of a very specific commodity: humans. They move migrants who have come to Agadez from all over West Africa into southern Libya, where many will work their way to the Mediterranean coast—a process that can take months if not years. From there, they pay their way onto boats that smuggle immigrants to Europe.

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