Libya jails 38 over deaths in Mediterranean Sea smuggling case

Five get life in jail over a trafficking case involving 11 people who died trying to cross the Mediterranean to Europe.

Migrants from Eritrea, Libya and Sudan sail a wooden boat before being assisted by aid workers of the Spanish NGO Open Arms in the Mediterranean Sea
People from Eritrea, Libya and Sudan are packed on a wooden boat before being assisted by aid workers of the Spanish NGO Open Arms, in the Mediterranean Sea north of Libya, in June 2023 [File: Joan Mateu Parra/AP Photo]

A court in eastern Libya has sentenced five people to life in prison after they were convicted of human trafficking over the deaths of 11 migrants and refugees who were on a rickety boat trying to cross the Mediterranean to Europe, the office of Libya’s chief prosecutor said.

The court in the city of Bayda also sentenced nine other defendants to 15 years in prison each on Monday, the office of General Prosecutor al-Sediq al-Sourr said in a statement. Another 24 suspects were jailed for a year, the statement added.

The defendants were part of a network smuggling people from Libya to Europe, it said. The statement did not say when they died or provide further details.

The court ruling was the latest in Libya to target traffickers.

On Friday, the chief prosecutor’s office said another court in the capital, Tripoli, sentenced one defendant to life in prison and two others to 20 years each for human trafficking.

In recent years, Libya has become a major transit point for people fleeing conflict and poverty in the Middle East and Africa to seek a better life in Europe.

Libya descended into chaos following a NATO-backed uprising in 2011 that toppled and killed long-time ruler Muammar Gaddafi. Human traffickers have benefitted from the instability in Libya since, engaging in the smuggling of people across borders from six nations, including Egypt, Algeria and Sudan.

Smugglers pack desperate people into ill-equipped rubber boats and other vessels for the risky voyage across the Central Mediterranean, primarily to reach Italian shores 290km (180 miles) to the north and across the world’s deadliest migratory sea route.

For years, the United Nations and rights groups have decried the inhumane conditions faced by those smuggled across the Mediterranean by trafficking gangs and the deplorable treatment inside state-run detention centres in Libya.

In a March report, a UN fact-finding mission on human rights in Libya found that some smuggled people were trapped there and had been subject to sexual slavery – a crime against humanity – among other abuses.

Source: News Agencies