The region of Libya most affected by the migratory flow towards Italy is the western one. Indeed, it is from the coasts of Tripolitania that most of the boats leave for Lampedusa and Sicily. 

A phenomenon already observed during the era of Gaddafi and which intensified with the fall and killing of the rais. 

According to Frontex , the European agency responsible for border control, there is now one city in particular that has assumed the role of a real “hub” for human traffickers.

This is Zuara , positioned in a strategic area projected towards the Tunisian borders and towards the stretch of water that separates Libya from Lampedusa.

The Frontex report

The Frontex report in which Zuara was expressly mentioned is the one made known last November 8 by the AdnKronos agency . 

The publication of the document, which had remained confidential in the previous months, caused a stir because it explicitly speaks of the possible “pull factor” exercised by NGO ships . 

In other words, the possible “attractive” role that the presence of activists’ vehicles would have on migrants waiting to leave the Libyan coast.

But there is another rather important passage in the document. Precisely the one in which a map of human trafficking in Libya was drawn. And, in particular, of the activities of smugglers and traffickers operating on the western Libyan coasts. 

The report refers to the period from 1 January 2021 to 18 May of the same year. The situation monitored is therefore that of more than twelve months ago, but considering the migratory dynamics in Libya, what has been described can probably still be considered very current. Libya – reads the document – ​​is once again perceived by sub-Saharans as the last country of departure to join the EU. 

The fact that to date many of these migrants reported in the European naval operation Themis only need between six and seven months to reach Italy suggests that criminal networks have efficiently readjusted their modus operandi to ‘ trafficking migrants in Libya and beyond in Italy”.

Zuara has become a trafficking hub and the main place of last departure in Libya and in the central Mediterranean region – continues Frontex – about 40% of all migrants reported in the central Mediterranean departed from here. 

And the information gathered through the debriefing activities increasingly indicates the direct involvement of the militias of the local authorities in the ‘trafficking’ activity in Zuara”.

Where is Zuara?

The indication received from Frontex is quite valuable. Until today, western Libya has always been spoken of generically as a fundamental hub for criminal organizations engaged in the smuggling of migrants. 

Now, however, the description appears much more detailed. From the surveys and interviews conducted over the years with the landed migrants, the names of many cities in Tripolitania have emerged. 

Sabratha , Zawiya and Zuara itself west of Tripoli, Garabulli and Khoms east of the Libyan capital. 

Now it is possible to know that, among these localities, the most important for the macabre trafficking of human beings is that of Zuara.

After all, the city is located at a crucial junction . It is in fact the last major Libyan town before Tunisia . 

So traffickers can also intercept migrants who have fled Tunisian territory and can somehow cooperate with organizations based across the border. 

Not only that, but the boats that set sail from here have to travel fewer kilometers to reach Maltese and Italian SAR waters than the vessels that depart from the coast east of Tripoli.

Zuara is also affected by the presence, in the other cities located between Tunisia and Tripoli, of some of the most important criminal organizations involved in the migratory route. 

In Sabratha, just over 40 km away, the fearsome Al Dabbashi clan operates , having returned to the city after a brief period of domination by militias loyal to General Haftar. 

A little further on is Zawiya , the city of Bija , the trafficker known for having worn (and perhaps still wearing) the Libyan Navy uniform. A bit the emblem of how controlled and controllers in Libya dominated by the militias still tend to get confused.  

Because it is important to know the Libyan immigration “hubs”.

The indication provided by Frontex could be exploited by the governments affected by the Libyan migratory flow, first and foremost by the Italian one, in the dialogue with Tripoli.

Knowing which are the locations from which most of the departures to our coasts take place, Rome could suggest to the Libyan counterpart to focus controls and operations to prevent departures on Zuara. 

Moreover, Italy has signed a memorandum with Libya in which millions of euros are expected in exchange for collaboration to prevent landings. Rome would then have a say in how the funds are spent by the Libyans.

However, considering the fragility of Tripoli’s institutions, in any case the control activities possibly put in place by Italy or Europe could be diverted to Zuara in the event that, as hoped by the Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni , a mission were reinstated EU with the aim of fighting traffickers.


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