Human trafficking, current migration routes, systematic torture and ill treatment on route

On the 7 November 2016, the Open Society European Policy Institute hosted a meeting in Brussels on the topic “Migration and asylum: 1.000 testimonies of torture en route”.  Several organisations, including EEPA, presented new findings concerning migration and trafficking routes and gave a thorough insight on the traumatising experiences of migrants subjected to torture during their journey.

The meeting was held with the intention to raise awareness for the traumatisation of migrants due to torture and abuse, which is a commonly overlooked issue in policies and lacks a legal basis to ensure sufficient protection to victims. It paid special attention to trafficking for ransom with severe torture practices, also referred to as “Sinai trafficking”.

Alberto Barbieri and Flavia Calò, both coordinator of the NGO Medici per i Diritti Umani – MEDU (Doctors for Human Rights) launched a web map based on 1.000 interviews with newly arrived migrants in Italy. The web map ESODI/EXODI reflects scale and forms of torture and their perpetrators along the North African routes leading to Europe.

The testimonies show that the psychological consequences of torture are often left undiagnosed and are likely to become chronic. This leads to difficulties in the integration process and increases the probability for people to be marginalised, Barbieri says. According to him, this is an issue of growing concern. It affects a large number of migrants that are currently held in reception centres at the southern European borders. The situation is worsened by undignified conditions in overcrowded camps that are likely to trigger a re-traumatisation of the victims.

The interviews allowed Barbieri and Calò to present a more in-depth analysis of the “root causes” of migration. What is striking, according to the representatives, is that economic reasons are only indicated in 10% of the cases, despite the common image of African migrants, especially from West Africa, as economic migrants. The main reasons instead include political persecution, religious persecution and situations such as the national service in the case of Eritrean refugees. According to Calò, torture is part of the migration route and it happens all along the way. 9 out of 10 migrants say that they have seen someone of their fellows been killed or severely hurt.

A torture survivor of Gambian origin gave a personal account of his harrowing journey. In his personal account, the survivor shared his story of how he fell victim to a rebel group in Kidal, how he got exploited and tortured in Algeria, imprisoned and forced to use violence against fellow prisoners in Libya and how he was held at gunpoint at the boarding point to Italy by smuggler until he entered a sea-unworthy and captain-less boat.

The network of human traffickers is extensive and smuggling of people is an organised crime in North Africa. Tasmara Newman, Direct of Development for Hotline for Refugees and Migrants in Israel presented latest evidence of torture in Israel and Sinai. People are commonly kidnapped from Eritrea and Ethiopia and sent to torture camps in Sinai until family members are able to pay the ransom, Newman says. Eventually, the victims end up being jailed in Israel although they did never even have the intention to go to Israel in the first place.

Children are an easy target for smugglers and traffickers. Some minors are kidnapped, others are lured by smugglers with so called no-fee deals at the Eritrean border, the Office and Communications Coordinator of EEPA says. It is the unlimited military service that leaves these children with no perspective for their future and provides incentives to flee the country at the risk of their lives. In recent years, the age of minors falling victim to smugglers continuously decreased, according to Smits. Minors are particular vulnerable and therefore likely to be sold from one trafficker to another, where they  are exploited and tortured.

The meeting organised by the Open Society demonstrated the fates of many migrants along current migration routes. Systematic torture and ill-treatment of migrants is known but has so far not sufficiently featured in the political debate. The lack of standard procedures for victims of torture along the migration routes and the lack of legal basis for their recognition allows this issue to be overlooked and leads to an arbitrary and insufficient dealing with victims.

Read more on the subject of Human Trafficking here:

The Human Trafficking Cycle: Sinai and Beyond

Human Trafficking in the Sinai: Refugees between Life and Death