The Gute-Salle neighborhood is a rundown area in the Libyan capital Tripoli, filled with old, dusty car parts and littered with tattered, smelly junkyards. Here, the long-abandoned cement warehouse reopened in January 2021, with raised walls and heavy barbed wire. Guards in black and blue camouflage uniforms and armed with rifles patrolled near the blue container, their makeshift office, with a sign outside the compound that read “Illegal Immigration Investigation Department.” This is the secret immigration prison “Alma Bani”, which means “that building” in Arabic.
At 3 a.m. on February 5, 2021, Ariou Kander, a robust and shy 28-year-old Guinea-Bissau young man, was taken to the “Almabani” prison on suspicion of illegal immigration. A year and a half ago, he had to leave home to find a way out because of the poor management of his home farm. He plans to go to Europe with his two brothers to earn a living. When he and more than 100 migrants were trying to cross the Mediterranean in a rubber boat, the Libyan coast guard intercepted them and escorted them here. They were pushed into Cell No. 4, where about 200 people were being held. There was almost no place to find a place to stay amid the crowds, and many people moved awkwardly on the ground to avoid being trampled on. The overhead fluorescent lights were on all night, and the small grille a foot across the cell door was the only source of natural light. Birds build their nests in gaps in roofs, and occasionally drop feathers and droppings on people. Kander was squeezed into a remote corner, and he was terrified: “What should we do?”
| Extrajudicial Prison |
Outside the walls, no one knew that Kander was behind bars. He has not been charged with any crime, and he has not been allowed to see a lawyer, let alone how long he will be held here. This prison is run by a militia affiliated to “a certain public security department” that we have no way of verifying. Nearly 1,500 illegal immigrants are held in eight cells. Every hundred people share a toilet. Use water bottles as urinals or defecate in the shower. Prisoner’s norm. The prisoners slept on the ground, and because there was not enough space, everyone had to take turns resting. Immigrants scrambled over who could take a break in a well-ventilated shower. They were released twice a day, standing in rows in the yard, prohibited from looking up and talking. The guards, like zoo keepers, put food in large pots on the ground, and let the prisoners gather in circles to grab food.
Shovels, cables, sticks… Guards use whatever tools are at their disposal to teach disobedient prisoners. “They hit people for no reason,” Tocam Luther from Cameroon, who slept next to Kander, told me. The prisoners speculated that the dead would be thrown into a hidden corner of the wall full of rubble. The guards would demand a ransom of 2,500 dinars from the prisoners. During meals, they would hunt for targets with their cellphones and let prisoners call their wealthy relatives. But Cander’s family couldn’t afford the money. “If you don’t have money, just stay here and be honest,” Luther said.
Over the past seven years, immigrants from sub-Saharan Africa have been pouring into Europe. The European Union, unable to bear the financial pressure and political cost of immigration, has created a “shadow immigration system” to prevent immigrants from reaching Europe. The European Union’s Libyan Coast Guard is a paramilitary organization that works with militias to patrol the Mediterranean Sea to catch stowaways and obstruct humanitarian aid. The illegal immigrants will be held indefinitely in for-profit prisons set up by militias. In September 2021, nearly 6,000 migrants were imprisoned in these prisons, mostly in “Almabani”. International aid agencies have documented a range of violent abuses: electric shock torture, child rape, ransom demands, forced unpaid labor, and more. “The EU has been planning for a long time,” said Sarah Magani, the former justice minister of Libya. “Those people have long planned to build prisons in Libya to stop African migrants from going to Europe.”
From February 1 to February 5, 2020, when Kander and his party were at sea, there were as many as 37 emails between the border guard and the guard.
Three weeks after Kander was incarcerated, a group of inmates hatched a plan to escape. Moussa Karuma, from Côte d’Ivoire, and several others deliberately hid feces in their cells for days until the stench was unpleasant. The moment the guards opened the door, 19 inmates ran wild. They climbed the roof of the shower room, jumped off the 15-foot-high outer wall, and disappeared into the alley near the prison. For those who stayed, they were greeted with a bloody nightmare. The guards called for reinforcements, and they fired into the cells, finding the prisoners to beat them wantonly. One survivor later told Amnesty International: “I saw them put a gun on the head of my cellmate and beat him until he was unconscious and convulsing. They didn’t call an ambulance that night, he was breathing but couldn’t speak. …I don’t know what happened to him after that, or what he did wrong.” For the
next few weeks, Kander lived in fear of getting into trouble. He always believed in the rumors in prison that the migrants would be released during Ramadan. “Allah is a miracle,” Luther wrote in his diary. “May his grace shelter immigrants from all over the world, especially from Libya.”
| European Fantasy |
Kander grew up on a rural farm in Guinea-Bissau, a place with no signals, no roads, no pipes and no electricity. As an adult, he ran a farm with his family. He listens to foreign music, follows European football, speaks English and French, and is teaching himself Portuguese. He looks forward to living in Portugal one day. “Aliou was a lovely kid who never got in trouble. He worked hard and everyone liked him,” recalls Kander’s brother Jacalia. Kander’s farm grows cassava, mangoes and cashews – this is Guinea Bissau’s main export crop. But because of climate change, the farm’s harvest is getting worse.
Kander, a devout Muslim, felt guilty for not being able to provide for his family in the presence of Allah. “He was guilty and jealous,” said Cander’s other brother, Popo. The eldest Jacalia immigrated to Spain, and the third, Dunbas, settled in Italy. The two often sent money and beautiful photos of the world to their homes. Kander’s father, Samba, said: “Whoever goes abroad will prosper.” Kander’s wife is pregnant, but Kander’s family still encourages him to go to Europe and promises to take good care of his children. On the morning of September 13, 2019, Kander set off for Europe with his Quran, diary, two changes of clothes and 600 euros. “I don’t know how long I will be away from home, but I love you and I will be back.” Young Kander, full of expectations for a new life, bid farewell to his wife with his promise.
Kander traveled all the way through Central Africa to Agadez in Niger. It used to be called the “Gateway to the Sahara”. Although there is no official official statement, most Central African countries have opened their borders to each other in the past, like the European Union. Since 2015, however, EU officials have pressured Niger to pass a regulation called Law 36. Overnight, drivers and tour guides transporting migrants to and from the border were deemed “human traffickers” and faced up to 30 years in prison if caught. Migrants have no choice but to venture across the Sahara Desert. In addition to the natural threat of heat and sand, they also need to cross over areas of Algeria that are controlled by bandits. If caught, Kander and his party would face endless abuse from the mob.
In January 2020, after untold hardships, Kander finally arrived in Morocco. But in Morocco, he learned that a trip to Spain would cost as much as 3,000 euros. Jacalia persuaded him to go back, but Kander said, “You are working hard in Europe to support your family, and now it’s my turn.” Kander heard that a cheaper boat could be booked in Libya to go to Italy. His great-uncle, Dunbar Bard, was a Libyan smuggler, doing all kinds of jobs to make ends meet. He finds Kander and persuades him to give up his plan to smuggle into the Mediterranean. “That’s the road to death,” Balder warned him.
| Work for the tiger |
The so-called “Libyan Coast Guard”, which sounds quite official, does not actually have a unified command. Key members of the Guard are from local patrols, which the United Nations has accused of collusion with militias. The EU trust fund spends tens of millions of dollars to develop these dispersed forces into their effective deterrents in Libya.
In 2018, the Italian government, with the support of the European Union, helped the Coast Guard obtain UN approval to extend its jurisdiction to an area 100 miles from the Libyan coastline. The EU provided the Guard with a variety of equipment including speedboats, cruisers, satellite phones and uniforms. In 2020, the European Union invested nearly one million dollars to build command centers for the Guard and provide training for officers.
Perhaps the most valuable help for the Coast Guard comes from the European Union Border Guard, established in 2004. Since 2015, the Border Guard has launched a special operation of “systematically arresting migrants across the sea”. Today, the Border Guard has a sufficient budget and independent armed forces. The Border Agency conducts round-the-clock surveillance of the Mediterranean with the help of drones and private jets. Once a migrant boat is detected at sea, the surveillance system informs local government agencies and EU partners in the region of the vessel’s location. Ostensibly, this is to assist with humanitarian relief, but in reality, staff do not share this information with humanitarian relief ships.
In an interview with me, a spokesman for the EU Border Protection Agency denied that the agency had any direct cooperation with Libyan authorities. However, an investigation by a consortium of European news agencies documented 20 cases of border service cooperation with the coast guard. The investigation found that the Border Guard sometimes sends the location information of migrant boats directly to the Coast Guard. Legal experts believe that these actions by the border guard have violated international law. BSA officials have recently responded to my request for public records. The records are known to show the email exchanges between the BSA and the Guard when Kander and his party were at sea from February 1 to February 5, 2020. Up to 37 letters.
Guards are dispatched as soon as they know the coordinates of the migrant boats, trying to catch the stowaways before humanitarian ships arrive. To achieve their goals, they will even open fire on migrant boats or warn rescue boats not to intervene. The Libyan Coast Guard and other groups have stopped more than 80,000 migrants, according to the International Organization for Migration. In 2017, a rescue boat from aid group Ocean Watch responded to a distress call from a sinking migrant boat. Just as aid workers were deploying life rafts, the Coast Guard’s speedboat quickly arrived at the scene, churning the waves and dragging many migrants into the water. The guards then dragged the migrants up and beat and kicked them. “Ocean Watch” mission leader Johannes Baier commented afterwards: “The guards only want to capture as many migrants as possible to Libya, and don’t care about the lives of these people.” In this failed rescue operation, At least 20 migrants have died, including a two-year-old child.
The Coast Guard is arrogant. In October 2020, Abdul-Rahman Milad, commander of the Zawiya Coast Guard, was placed on the UN Security Council sanctions list for “shooting and sinking a migrant boat”. He was also arrested by Libyan authorities. But just six months later, the authorities released him, citing a lack of evidence. A spokesman for the Coast Guard declined to respond to our report, instead highlighting the results they have achieved in combating illegal immigration and, in turn, blaming humanitarian aid groups for hindering their work. “Why did they declare war on us?” the Guard spokesman asked the media. “If they really want to benefit immigrants, they should cooperate with our work.” The spokesperson of the EU Trust Fund also said that the cooperation between the EU and the Coast Guard is To “save the lives of sea and land adventurers”.
| Hope is shattered |
At around 10pm on February 3, 2021, smugglers took Kander and the other 130 people to the coast of Libya and arranged for them to leave in an inflatable rubber boat. The immigrants were so excited they even sang. Two hours later, the dinghy entered the open sea. Kander sat on the side of the boat, hopeful. He told his friends that he would take his wife and children to live in Europe in the future.
It didn’t take long for the sea to show its ruthless side to these poor people. The churning waves made almost everyone seasick, and the boat was full of vomit, feces and food waste. Clashes erupted, with irritated passengers threatening to puncture the dinghy. Mohammad Sumahoro, a friend Kander met on the boat, recalled: “Everyone was calling on their gods, some were calling out to Allah, some were calling out to Jesus. The women began to cry, and the swaddled babies cried out because of their mother’s unease. .” The
sea did not calm down until dawn. Migrants, judging they were far from Libya, turned to aid agencies for help. Volunteers on the other end of the phone told them that there was a merchant ship not far away that could help. Immigrants cheered the good news. Kander looked at Sumahoro with bright eyes: “God bless us! We are going to succeed! We are going to Italy!” However, when the merchant ship arrived, it told the migrants that the ship was not equipped with lifeboats to complete the rescue work, and immediately sailed away. away from here.
At this point, Kander and their ships were about 70 miles from Tripoli, outside the Libyan waters, but still under the jurisdiction of the Guard. They were spotted by an EU Border Guard surveillance plane at around 5pm on February 4. About three hours later, the guard’s boat came into view. Seeing the black and green striped flag on the boat, the migrants were heartbroken and couldn’t help crying. The “steel behemoth” built by the European Union heavily slammed into the rubber boat, and the guards ordered the migrants to board the boat immediately. “Move!” They used gun butts and whips to drive the migrants back to Libya, where they were transferred to the “Almabani” prison.
Some migrants escaped, but Kander remained in his cell, looking forward to an “amnesty” before Ramadan. By the end of March, that hope was gone. Prisoners were told they would not be released during Ramadan. The light in Kander’s eyes disappeared. He was afraid of getting into trouble, so he had been carefully hiding his cell phone. Knowing that freedom was hopeless, he secretly sent a voice message to his relatives for help, hoping that his brothers could contact his father and collect the ransom.
At 2 a.m. on April 8, Kander was awakened by a loud bang. Several Sudanese prisoners attempted to break open the cell door to escape. Worried that their rashness would implicate others, Kander hurriedly asked Sumahoro what to do. Sumahoro immediately summoned his partners to stop the escapee. “We tried many times,” Sumahoro told them. “It didn’t work. The guards would beat us half to death.” Notifying the guard, the guard immediately drove a sand truck to block the door.
The Sudanese ripped iron pipes from the shower walls and fought with prisoners who stopped them. The riots continued for three and a half hours, and the migrants began calling for help from guards outside. Rather than helping to quell the riots, however, the militias continued to fan the flames. “Go on!” a guard laughed and threw a bottle of water at them. “Go on, kill them!”
At 5:30, the guards left and returned with semi-automatic rifles. Without warning, they fired into the cell from the shower window for ten minutes. Kander, who was hiding in the shower, was hit in the carotid artery. He staggered against the wall and tried to escape, but in the end he fell to the ground due to excessive blood loss, leaving a wall of blood to witness the end of his tragic life. Sumahoro tore off a cloth and pressed the wound on Kander’s neck to stop the bleeding, but Kander died within minutes.
Grieving prisoners refused to hand over Kander’s body. The guard who got into the trouble was panicked and demanded to negotiate with the prisoners. In the end, they agreed to trade the freedom of the prisoner in Cell 4 for Kander’s body. Before 9 o’clock, the guards opened the door to Cell No. 4, and 300 migrants lined up silently on the streets of Tripoli. The morning light shines on them, but they can no longer care for the 29-year-old who was left in the dark.
An immigrant community leader and Cander’s great-uncle, Bard, arrived at the news and went to the police station to get the autopsy report. The autopsy report contained neither Kander’s name nor his origin. Libyan authorities convicted him of dying in an infighting between prisoners, angering community leaders: “That was a bullet!” They claimed Kander’s body at a local hospital and paid off his posthumous debt: hospitalization Fees are $189 and funeral fees are $222.
Kander’s family is devastated. His youngest daughter had lost him forever without ever seeing his father. Farm conditions deteriorate further, and Kander’s youngest brother, Popo, is about to venture to Europe in order to make a living. “What else can we do?” Bobo asked.
After Kander’s death, the EU ambassador to Libya, Jose Sabadell, called for a formal investigation into the case, but nothing has been heard since. The EU is still supporting Libya’s campaign against illegal immigration. The European Commission has also pledged to revamp the “Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre” for the Coast Guard and put in three more ships.
At the end of evening prayers on April 30, Balder and 20 others held a funeral for Kander. The cemetery, located between a substation and two large warehouses, is where most of the migrants who died in Libya are buried, many of them unnamed. After they prayed, they sealed the tomb with concrete. In a chorus of “Praise be to Allah” prayers, one of them scribbled Kander’s name on a twig on the still-unset concrete.