Jamal Jowhar

From ‘Kidan’ to ‘Radwan and Murad’

Extensive local and international mafias are behind the human trafficking and the attempts made by Issa and those with him to go into the sea six times. The business was promoted openly on social networking sites, advertising flee trips and their prices. This comes in parallel with the dismantling of the “largest human smuggling network” in Sudan, an operation in which the UAE police cooperated with the Interpol earlier this year.

Sudanese police arrested Eritrean citizen Kidan Zacharias Habt Mariam, known as “Kidan”, 37, in coordination with the UAE authorities, according to Brigadier General Saeed Abdullah Al Suwaidi, Director General of the Federal Drug Control Department in the UAE.

Kidan was arrested in Ethiopia in 2020, but he fled after one year, and was subsequently sentenced in absentia to life imprisonment. According to Interpol, Kidan is wanted for leading a criminal organization that for years kidnapped, abused and extorted migrants from East Africa to smuggle them to Europe.

The Missing Migrants project has documented the deaths and disappearances of more than 5,600 people across the Sahara Desert since 2014, with 149 deaths recorded as of 2022.

On January 5, Al-Suwaidi announced: “We have now closed one of the most dangerous smuggling routes to Europe, through which thousands of migrants from Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia and Sudan were transported through Libya, and from there to Europe.

If this is the story of Kidan, then who are Radwan and Murad, whose names are preceded by the surname “Haj” among those wishing to emigrate, and whose names are repeatedly mentioned by some?

Some families revealed to us that brokers like A.F, S.A.M. and S.B. in Egypt are just contractors working to gather young people and hand them over to a second and larger ring, until they reach large agents, including Radwan and Murad or others in Libya.

Social media is full of “video propaganda campaigns” for many human traffickers, including Radwan and Murad. The origins and the whereabouts of the two men remains unknown. They use fake names, and deal through intermediaries. This is how many Egyptians dealt with them, including Ayman Tarek al-Barri, according to what his sister told us. However, some migrants and their families believe that Murad is a Syrian, while Riad is a Libyan.

Stacked boats

The propaganda surrounding Riad and Murad, which usually relies on the testimonies of those who are believed to be migrants, failed to hide how hundreds of people wishing to emigrate to Europe, young or old, are packed on overcrowded boats like cattle.

This was evident in a video Asharq Al-Awsat received from one of the migrants, who was returned by the coastguards in western Libya in late January.

A boat capsized off the city of Qasr Al-Akhyar (75 kilometers east of the capital Tripoli) in mid-February. At least 73 migrants drowned. A team from the Red Crescent society in the city of Khums managed to recover 11 bodies.

The increase in the number of children migrating to Libya, with the intention of fleeing to Europe, during 2022 only, affirms that the matter has turned into a phenomenon. This prompted us to seek an explanation with UNICEF, but we received no response. Doctors without Borders also regretted that it did not have information on the same subject, and asked us to navigate its website, searching for relevant information.

According to a report by the International Organization for Human Rights in mid-April 2023, about 695,000 irregular migrants are in 100 Libyan municipalities, and they belong to more than 42 nationalities.

According to the report, financial difficulties remain the most pressing issue for more than three out of five migrants (61%), followed by problems with identity documents (30%), lack of Information (22%), security concerns (20%) and food and water insecurity (18%) in Libya.

Escape from the corpses

Residents of coastal Libyan cities are used to seeing the waves of the sea tossing some bodies believed to be of migrants who drowned during their trips to Europe, so much so that residents of the Qasr Al-Akhyar town were forced last summer to flee their homes and farms, because of horrible odors coming from corpses lying on the beach.

Given the reoccurrence of this phenomenon, Brigadier General Miftah Mohammed Haidar, the Security Commander of Khums area, announced that the city is facing a problem of piling corpses of drowned migrants piled up in morgue, demanding the allocation of a plot of land to be used as a graveyard.

The teams of the Libyan Red Crescent society always rushes to recover the bodies of migrants after notifying local and judicial authorities. Tawfiq Al-Shukri, director of the Information and Communication Office in Red Crescent, briefed Ashaq Al-Awsat on the efforts of relief teams to solve the crisis.

At least 2,300 people have died or gone missing in the Mediterranean since the beginning of 2022, while trying to cross on rickety and overcrowded boats that sailed from North Africa, mainly from Libya and Tunisia, according to the International Organization for Migration.

Italian police said the largest rate of migration flow during 2022 arrived from Libya with more than 53,000 illegal migrants, followed by Tunisia with more than 32,000.

Missing on land and at sea

Statements by the coastguard and anti-illegal migration authorities in Libya speak to appalling conditions suffered by dozens of children rescued from time to time, either in “secret warehouses,” or huddled with other migrants on boats at sea. Still, some do not belong to either group, among them – for example – are Egyptians Bilal Mohamed El Gamal, Adham Abdel Tawab, Nader Mohamed El-bezzawi, as well as Sudanese Mubarak Haroun Moussa, in addition to some who came from Syria and Palestine.

Bilal al-Jamal, 17, came from the village of Nahtai, Gharbia governorate. His cousin Nahed told us that he went missing more than a year ago, after he told them by phone from Sirte that he was heading to Italy in a boat.

“We learned from those who accompanied him that the coastguard returned the boat after it had traveled hundreds of kilometers. We inquired about him in Libya. We were told by some he is in prison, and others are asking for money to tell us his whereabouts, but it turned out that they are all liars. His mother is suffering from poor health.”

Speaking of the broker S.A.M., Nahed said in a written statement: “We asked him about Bilal and he claimed he didn’t know where he was; we are waiting for any news from Libya about him.”

Sirte, overlooking the Mediterranean Sea, about 450 kilometers from Tripoli, is a starting point for irregular migrants to Europe, although this is not as high as the turnout in other cities such as Sabratha, Zawiya, Zuwara and Qara Bolli, east and west of the capital.

With each returning boat loaded with migrants from the open sea to Tripoli shore in the west or Tobruk in the east, families in the Egyptian countryside, and Arab and African countries scramble for information. They all hope that – despite the loss of their “lifetime savings” – their children have survived, while frustration appears on returnees because of their failure to reach European shores.

Over the past eight years, 51,000 irregular migrants have died and thousands have disappeared, according to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, who said on the International Migrants Day on December 18 that “unregulated migration within the ruthless world of smugglers still has high costs.”

The dangers that Guterres warnings found an echo in the Gaza Strip, following the identification of eight dead young people whose families had reported them missing in Libya. Their relatives published photos of them while they were on a walk in the Martyrs’ Square in the center of Tripoli, before their bodies were found off the Tunisian coast. The young victims died after a boat carrying them among others, drowned.

Amid a large crowds and tributes of mourners, the coffins of the victims were lined up, and funeral prayers were held for them on December 18. Among the victims were the brothers Maher and Mohammed Talal Ramadan Al-Shaer, and their relative Sami Mansour Ajeya al-Shaer.

‘Return to life’

The lists of names of some migrants made it easier for us to track and find out their whereabouts, even though they could be deported at any time from one prison to another. This news was reassuring to some families, but left others dismayed and heartbroken.

Asharq Al-Awsat obtained photos and information confirming the presence of dozens of children of Arab and African nationalities in a shelter for “vulnerable groups – women and children” in Tripoli (Zawiya Street), including 72 Egyptian children. At that time, we learned that the center’s administration was in the process of deporting a number of them, including Ahmed Faiq, who came from the village of Qarmala in Asharqia, whose family had previously been informed of his disappearance.

‘Vulnerable groups’ are lucky

Meanwhile, the Egyptian embassy in Tripoli was rushing to prepare travel documents for about 105 people, and on November 17, 2022, I received a letter from Ahmed Fayek’s mother, confirming that he was transferred among other Egyptians to the Sikka shelter, completing the procedures for their return to Egypt.

Anyone who is admitted to the shelter for “vulnerable groups” must be lucky, because it has only been established recently, and its applicants receive special care from the Migration Agency, in contrast to widespread violations in many informal centers, up to rape, according to UN reports.

A few days later, the Migration Agency in Tripoli, led by Colonel Mohammed Al-Khoja, deported a large number of inmates. The detainee’s mother, Ahmed Fayek, told us that he had arrived at Cairo International Airport.

The coastguard forces in east Libya managed to return many boats loaded with migrants, including a large boat carrying nearly 500 migrants, including a large number of children, from Egypt and Syria. The boat was welcomed in Tobruk by the mayor of the municipality Farag Boualkhatabia, who appeared carrying an infant described as the “youngest migrant” found along with his family.

Mystery of the burnt boat

Anyone who has lost a child or relative in Libya and is waiting for his/her return must feel horrified by disasters hitting migrant communities there. One of these disasters occurred on the shore of Sabratha after a bloody dispute broke out between a group of human traffickers, which ended with the shooting of the fuel tank of the boat carrying dozens of migrants.

The horrific crime, which took place on October 10, claimed the lives of 15 migrants, 11 of whom turned into charred bodies. Osama Abdel Tawab believes that his brother Adham was among the victims. Adham had arrived in Libya in August 2022, seeking a way to emigrate to Europe, but there was no news of him since his last call with his brother in Italy.

Osama links the incident of the boat burning with a call he received from his brother, the same day the local authorities announced the incident. “Adham called me from Zuwara, the day of the incident, and told me that he and 150 people were going to board a boat from Sabratha, and since then we have no news of him.” Osama said.

In the city of Abnoub, Assiut Governorate (about 400 kilometers south of Cairo), 14-year-old Adham was living with his family. Before he and his peers enrolled in the third grade of middle school, he yearned to travel and emigrate to Europe.

The story of the Southern boy Adham has conflicting accounts. His brother said Adham spoke to him from Zuwara, and then indicated – according to latest news – that he moved to neighboring Sabratha. “The boat sailed for one and a half hours, then suddenly it turned out that the boat had a hole. They came back for the second time, and it drowned before the shore.”

Asharq Al-Awsat contacted Libyan public prosecution in Tripoli on the matter, Consultant Ali Zubaida, the Deputy Prosecutor in the Libyan Attorney General’s Office, informed us that there “were no Egyptians on the burnt Sabratha boat,” adding that “it was carrying only Eritrean and Ethiopian migrants.”

Sabratha is one of the most important departure points for irregular migrants to Europe, along with other cities on the west and east coasts, where the “smuggling mafia” is active, away from the eyes of the security authorities.

Osama’s heartbreak over his brother is pushing him to constantly search for him. He told us: “We contacted all sides, we contacted many officials, and still don’t know his whereabouts. Even the broker who facilitated his travel turned off his phone. What we want now is to match the DNA, to find out whether Adham’s body is among the charred bodies or not.”

Human traffickers in Libya usually charge large sums of money, not less than US$5,000, for moving their victims to secret hideouts, then pushing them to the sea. My main question to Adham’s brother was: “Where did he get all this money, especially that he is still young, and he could not even work in Libya?” I couldn’t get an answer.

Osama told us that the people from Abnub recently found the body of a man who was accompanying his brother on the boat, named Haitham. They are also waiting for the return of another body of the Egyptian Islam Diab Abdo from Libya, and are still waiting for the return of Adham.


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