Libyan smuggling kingpin sanctioned over detention centre abuse

Osama Al Kuni Ibrahim is said to run a centre in northern Libya where women have been raped and migrants killed

A Libyan coast guardsman watches over the rescue of 147 illegal immigrants attempting to reach Europe off the coastal town of Zawiyah. AFP
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The UN has sanctioned a suspected Libyan smuggling kingpin who heads a detention centre where migrants have allegedly been killed, raped and beaten.

Osama Al Kuni Ibrahim is the “de facto manager” of the Al Nasr centre in Zawiyah, Libya, where he or others under his control have carried out “horrific abuses” against migrants, according to the US government.

The action means that all UN member states should impose an asset freeze and travel ban on Ibrahim, who is accused by the US of “systematic exploitation of African migrants at the detention centre”.

Euronews cited a source inside the camp as saying in 2019 that the camp chief named as Osama and his men shot at migrants who refused to follow traffickers to whom they had been sold. Three people were sentenced to jail terms for torturing migrants in the centre, said the UN.

Libya has emerged as a major trafficking centre, with militias exploiting those passing through the county trying to reach Europe. Rights groups say the abuse of migrants has continued unabated for a decade since the toppling of Muammar Qaddafi and the fracturing of the country between rival groups.

Ibrahim was said to be working “for or on behalf of, or at the direction” of two of the country’s most wanted human traffickers, Abdel-Rahman Milad, and militia leader Mohammed Kachlaf.

The pair were both sanctioned by the UN Security Council in 2018 over allegations of human trafficking and abuse of migrants. Milad was arrested in October 2020 but freed in April after the authorities dropped charges against him, citing a lack of evidence.

The centre, some 50 kilometres west of Tripoli and known as the “Osama prison”, has long been associated with abuse of migrants.

In 2016, five detainees were fatally shot after a confrontation between a guard and a migrant. The migrant was one of 1,500 people then held in the camp after they were intercepted at sea and returned to Libya.

Amnesty International reported in July how 10 years of violations against migrants continued in the first six months of 2021, despite repeated promises from the Libyan authorities to address them.

It documented disappearances from the camps and accounts from survivors of guards raping women and coercing them into sex in exchange for food or freedom.

The European Union has funded the Libyan coastguard since 2017 in return for restricting the flow of migrants from North Africa. It says the goal is to “prevent further tragic losses in the Mediterranean and to crack down on migrant smuggling networks”.

But rights groups say the EU is ignoring abuses on its doorstep in return for controlling migration into the bloc. UN-commissioned investigators said earlier this month that abuse and ill treatment of migrants in Libya amounted to crimes against humanity.

The UN, US and UK have all sanctioned Ibrahim for human rights abuses. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the move exposed the “mistreatment, exploitation and violence being perpetrated against vulnerable migrants transiting Libya in pursuit of a better life.”

He called on the Libyan authorities to hold Ibrahim and other human rights abusers to account.

“We will continue to work with the international community and use all the tools at our disposal to support victims and identify those involved in abuses of human rights,” he said.

Updated: October 27, 2021, 2:04 PM

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