Wars and political repression in Africa, and the breakdown of order in Libya, have increased the number of migrants coming to the country. Libyan officials admit they are overwhelmed by the flood of migrants into detention centers and onto the streets, which require some 30,000 officials, guards, doctors, and nurses to manage.
An estimated 1 million illegal migrants arrived last year in Europe, perhaps a third via Libya, compounding a vast influx of people from war-torn and impoverished parts of Africa and Asia. Over the last few weeks, departures from the shores of Libya and neighboring Tunisia have subsided, with winter seas considered too dangerous. Now Libyans are bracing for springtime, when migrant activity picks up as warm, still Mediterranean waters entice a surge of illegal boat departures.
Until recently, Libyan officials, mired in their own internal civil and political conflict, downplayed illegal migration, viewing it as a European problem. But they are discovering increasingly that illegal migration is not only about people from Africa and Asia heading to Europe, but can hurt Libyans as well. The country now has become a destination for foreign jihadis as well as a transit point for weapons and drugs that find their way into local black markets.
Primarily, Libyan officials have grown more serious about stopping illegal border crossings and dismantling smuggling networks because they are now seen as part and parcel of the growth of ISIS in Libya.
Officials have also discovered strong ties between the networks smuggling migrants and those moving weapons and drugs. Hashish comes from Morocco, while guns flow out of Libya. Gangs from Africa network with counterparts in Europe forming broad transnational crime syndicates.
“The bigger problem is in the deserts where the criminal gangs have the freedom to pursue their activities.”
In recent months, as the crackdown on the illegal migration industry has begun to intensify, Libyans say they’ve gleaned precious intelligence about the vast, profitable infrastructure of human smuggling networks that take people on the dangerous and often-deadly trail from Sub-Saharan Africa through lawless Libya and onto flimsy boats bound for European waters.
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