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Central Mediterranean route. Tripolitania lives off trafficking

At the heart of the EUNAVFOR Med command, the FHQ on board the Cavour (© NGV / B2)
At the heart of EUNAVFOR Med command, the FHQ on board the Cavour. Electronic means… and traditional card. The good old compass, eraser and pencil remain in use (© NGV / B2)

(B2, aboard the Cavour) Libyan, Egyptian or Tunisian traffickers... at EUNAVFOR Med, we are starting to know them well, by practicing them.

A classic surveillance lookout…

The European mission, to identify the habits and customs of traffickers, has deployed various means. Maritime patrol aircraft regularly survey the area, as do shipboard helicopters, or even sailors onboard ships watching what is happening. The control takes place visually but also by the various radar and electronic surveillance devices.

…and a little more sophisticated

The British have deployed an oceanographic ship which has the advantage of having numerous observation equipment on board. They also have a drone but “ more on a trial basis than actually operational ", according to our information. The EUNAVFOR MED operation also uses more discreet means, such as a submarine. Very convenient, " it cannot be spotted by traditional means “testifies an officer. " This makes it possible to observe movements, telephone conversations if necessary, etc. »

A real traffic in Libya

Migrants are recruited through social media, relatives or travel agency services that act for smuggling networks outside Libya. Before passing through, migrants are accommodated “ in “secure areas”, houses or large buildings, in rear areas a few km from the beach” where migrants stay for a period of days or months. " They work in the meantime, or are exploited by traffickers. »

Passage at night, with boarding ticket please

Just before the crossing, the migrants are brought back in groups to a camp near the beach. This sometimes requires passing " in contested areas, and payment of escorts or 'rights of passage' at checkpoints ". Final payment takes place in the staging area, with a system quite similar to ferries: a ticket or boarding pass is used to facilitate the process. Usually, around midnight, migrants are gathered and board the boats. The passage takes place at night. Less risky!

The Libyan police sometimes present

The Libyan coast guard or police is rare. But she sometimes does operations. " It is, to say the least, unexpected and surprising. We don't really have any information on how they operate or why they intervene at this time and not at others. » says a sailor. The idea of ​​a certain complicity between the police and the traffickers is not entirely excluded... Beware of those who have been 'caught'. They are immediately brought back to shore. And the journey is over for them. The traffickers believe they have done the work for which they were paid. If the migrant wants to try his luck again, he must pay again. If he doesn't have money... he has to work to be able to afford the trip. In very harsh conditions, sometimes close to slavery, we are told.

The Lampedusa Triangle

The majority of them start from “ Lampedusa triangle » marked at the ends, by the ports of Zuwhara and Misrata, on the Tripolitan coast, and the island of Lampedusa at the tip. Four main embarkation points have been identified: Zuwarah, Sabratah, Garabulli and Misrata. Most rescues take place between 20 and 40 nautical miles, outside the line of Libyan territorial waters.

Wooden or inflatable boats?

Each area has its own method. To the west of Tripoli, wooden boats are used more (wooden boat) which have the advantage of being able to take more people at a time and to be picked up (around 600 people each time). East of Tripoli, inflatable boats are more commonly used (dinghi, rubber ou inflatable boat), which are easy to find, cost less to buy but carry fewer people at a time (around 100-120 each time).

Where do these canoes come from?

The inflatable boats are imported from China and transit through Malta or Turkey. Maltese customs thus intercepted a container containing 20 packed inflatable boats, intended for Misrata. But the container had to be released. " There is no legal framework to retain such equipment ».

How much does a pass cost?

The cost of passage varies depending on the speed of passage… and nationality. We estimate the ticket “on average at $1000 » tells us Rear Admiral Gueglio who commands the operation in the area. Africans would pay less, around $500, where a Syrian can pay $1000 to $1500. The price of the passage also differs depending on the type of boat and the type of organization. “ It’s cheaper to sail from an inflatable boat from Tripoli than from a wooden ship from Zuwahra.” And there are trips in 3rd or 1st class. Travel in the hold costs less, but is more dangerous than on deck or in the cabin. To this, we must add the “options”. The cost of a life jacket can be up to $200. A vest which is sometimes simply a replica, a fake, and whose seaworthiness is doubtful...

How much does the business bring in?

It is estimated that the traffic business thus generates an income of 250 to 300 million euros. It represents more than half of the revenue of the cities of Tripolitania. Suffice it to say that it is not one or two people who are getting rich, but a large part of the population who lives directly or indirectly from trafficking. We need drivers, cooks, security guards, sailors, 'travel agents', logisticians, etc.

The “stock” of migrants: difficult to estimate

The number of migrants gathered in Libya awaiting passage varies depending on the source. Before December, there was often talk of half a million people waiting to cross. A figure evaluated by extrapolation and therefore not very certain. Today, we are instead talking about a smaller figure, perhaps more realistic. About 100.000 people could be waiting for the passage. But without having any real accounting possible. Suffice it to say that with the return of good weather, arrivals will number in the hundreds per day (read also: New migrants recovered this morning in the Mediterranean).

The criteria for a passage

The number of crossings depends on three factors noted by the EUNAVFOR military: 1° the flow of migrants seeking to use the central Mediterranean route, 2° the possibility of operating without being ransomed by militias, rival groups and authorities, 3° the capacity to provide transport to Europe or merchant, military or rescue vessels. And the weather, we can add, which conditions a large part of the passages. In Zuwarah, we note, traffic decreased from September, following tensions between local militias affiliated with Tripoli or Tobruk.

(Nicolas Gros-Verheyde)

Read also: In Libya, traffickers are adapting. Tactics are changing


Read the rest of the report:

Nicolas Gros Verheyde

Chief editor of the B2 site. Graduated in European law from the University of Paris I Pantheon Sorbonne and listener to the 65th session of the IHEDN (Institut des Hautes Etudes de la Défense Nationale. Journalist since 1989, founded B2 - Bruxelles2 in 2008. EU/NATO correspondent in Brussels for Sud-Ouest (previously West-France and France-Soir).

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