Refugee teenager Hennessy dreams of Europe after brutal 6,000-mile odyssey

Bel Trew, The Times Bel Trew, Cairo

His journey began eighteen months ago and took him 6,000 miles across Africa. It is not, however, the distance covered in his quest to reach Europe that is the most remarkable aspect of Hennessy’s odyssey but the horrors he survived along the way.

Hennessy, aged 19, has endured death threats in Juba, torture in Tripoli and crippling poverty in Cairo.

He fled his home in Juba, South Sudan in June 2016 after his family discovered that he was gay and threatened to kill him. He headed for Egypt in search of safety and a new life but quickly found himself penniless, begging in the streets of Cairo among other refugees. They convinced him that his dreams lay in Europe, that he should try to reach Libya and chance the treacherous sea crossing to Italy.

It was a risk that almost cost him his life, a life that began, improbably, in Chingford, Essex and Hackney, east London where his father had practised as a dentist before returning home to South Sudan in 2011. “I was kidnapped and tortured twice in Libya by militias,” he said from Cairo, where he is now camping on sofas.

“The first was immediately after I was smuggled in a jeep to east Libya. I had to be rescued by the smuggler who paid my ransom. When I flew to Tripoli to try to get to Italy I was taken at the airport and held in an underground prison,” he said.

Every morning his kidnappers lined the migrants up on the ground and whipped them with pipes until their families paid a ransom. He was eventually saved by the Libyan security forces and taken to the filthy Tariq al-Siqqa migrant centre under Tripoli airport, which he said was almost worse. It was there that The Times first met Hennessy, crammed in with 1,300 migrants.

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Libyan militia chief admits deal with Tripoli to stem migrant flow

The Times
A powerful Libyan militia commander and suspected trafficking kingpin has struck a deal with Tripoli to stem the flow of migrants to Europe in exchange for cars, boats and the recognition of his force as a legitimate security body.

Ahmed Dabbashi, who commands the Anas Dabbashi brigade, said that he met officials from Libya’s UN-backed government in July to discuss how to shut down people trafficking along the coast. In the meeting the officials agreed to clear the accusations of criminality hanging over his brigade.

The deal coincides with a sharp fall in the number of migrants crossing from Libya to Italy in the past few weeks, down by 86 per cent last month. However, the militia warned that migrant numbers would climb again if the brigade stopped receiving financial help.
Mr Dabbashi, known by his nickname al-Ammu (The Uncle), has long been accused of running a trafficking network from the smuggling hub of Sabratha. Security officials in Sabratha and Tripoli said this week that his militia was paid millions of euros by Italy in a deal with the Libyan government to stop his trade.

It would not be the first time that Europe has paid unsavoury figures in Libya to halt the flow of migrants to its shores. The EU pledged €50 million to Libya in 2010 under Colonel Gaddafi to fight illegal migration.

Mr Dabbashi denied the smuggling charges and the Italian deal. He said that his brigade, which has 500 men and is part of the unity government’s defence ministry, was just policing the coastal city.

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Photo: AP

PRI Radio: A growing number of migrants are detained in Libya, enduring dismal conditions

PRI, radio, Bel Trew


Libya is ground zero for Europe’s migrant crisis. Tens of thousands of people from across Africa and Asia use it as a transit point to get to Europe. It’s attractive because it’s relatively close to southern Europe, and because Libya is itself a country in conflict.

This story is based on a radio interview.Listen to the full interview.

But now the authorities in Libya are trying to get a handle on the migrants. Hundreds are being locked up prior to deportation. But conditions are terrible.

Bel Trew of The Times of London got rare access to the camps and just got back. She calls the conditions “horrific.”

“We’re talking about airless, windowless houses in soaring temperatures,” she says, “with hundreds of people in these rooms. And they’re often there months at a time because they are waiting to be repatriated home.”

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Photo:  Ismail Zitouny/Reuters

Food runs short amid squalor of Libya’s detention centres

The TimesIn Libya’s migrant detention centres, they call it knife sleeping. Locked in windowless warehouses, the migrants have so little space they sleep in shifts. The men lie pressed back to back like cutlery stacked in a drawer.

At the Triq al-Siqqa centre in Tripoli, the putrid smell of 1,300 people living in close quarters in the searing summer heat hits like a punch to the stomach. The air is so thick it is nearly impossible to breathe. In the main cell, 700 men crouch on the floor like animals in a pen. Two barred gates separate them from the outside.

Some of the detainees, who come from Africa, southeast Asia and the Middle East, have been living like this for eight months waiting to be repatriated. With almost no exceptions, Libya does not process asylum claims.

Bel Trew of The Times interviewing migrants detained at the centre
Bel Trew of The Times interviewing migrants detained at the centreTAHA JAWASHI FOR THE TIMES

“It’s extremely hard, there are not enough toilets, there are many fights for water and food,” said Shahadat, 38, from Bangladesh, weak in the heat.

He was arrested in May and is waiting to be repatriated, after losing $7,000 to smugglers and kidnappers. “The authorities are trying their best but you can barely sleep. It’s a nightmare,” he said. Inmates have set up an impromptu barber and washing station close by but disease spreads fast.

Behind Shahadat, dozens of Bangladeshi migrants were lined up cross-legged on the dirt floor, awaiting their turn to eat. Fights broke out when a different group from Mali claimed that they had jumped the queue. Supplies for lunch — a stale sandwich, juice carton and glass of water — were running out.

Anes al-Azabi, one of the centre’s heads, said that there were only four days of food left. After that, if the centre could not secure government funding or a new deal with a charity, the guards would have to bring in their own supplies.

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Migrant crisis: Libya calls for Europe to help stem the tide

The TimesBel Trew, Tripoli
Libya requires urgent help from Europe to stem the tide of migrants crossing the Mediterranean, the country’s prime minister told The Times.

Faiez Serraj, 57, head of the UN-backed unity government based in Tripoli, criticised Europe’s response — which he said did not “match the challenges Libya is facing”. Italy and Libya had been left to shoulder the burden alone, he said.

Years of conflict in Libya have ravaged the economy, created a security vacuum and left Tripoli unable to cope with the crisis. Hundreds of thousands of migrants have crossed illegally into the country, eager to get to Italy.

“We can no longer handle illegal migration as we used to, due to the increasing numbers,” he said. “We have limited financial, logistical, and security resources. Europe’s response does not match the challenges we are facing.”

He said that Europe should help Libya to build an electronic fence along its southern borders; lift the six-year UN arms embargo on Tripoli so that it could arm its coastguard against traffickers; put pressure on migrants’ original countries to take them back; give humanitarian help to emergency migrant shelters and camps in Libya; and reject the long-term resettlement of migrants in Libya. He said the country could not sustain big camps.

Mr Serraj said: “We still need more pressure from the EU . . . to discourage uncontrolled flow from neighbouring and other African states. We are absolutely not after profiting from this assistance but we want to stop this humanitarian crisis.”

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Libyans protect their heritage against jihadist onslaught

The TimesBel Trew, Leptis Magna

It is hard to imagine an encroaching battalion of Islamic State militants when sitting on top of the Leptis Magna ruins. The sound of waves and birdsong are the only things that break through the silence at the Unesco world heritage site, 80 miles east of Tripoli. As one of the best preserved Roman cities in the world and one of the most unspoilt sites on the Mediterranean it should be heaving with tourists and archaeologists.

The entire 2,500-year-old ruin, however, home to marble basilicas, sweeping forums and an ancient seafront theatre, is empty except for a single Libyan family and a handful of local volunteers in sandals and T-shirts guarding the site with battered rifles.

It is not difficult to see why the tourists are keeping their distance. Libya has descended into violent chaos since the overthrow of Colonel Gaddafi and Isis — which has established a stronghold on the coast — has attacked the two main checkpoints that lead to and from the site in the past few months.

“We are mostly guarded by local volunteers but if it’s particularly tense, like after a bombing, we call the militias in,” said Fathy, a wiry man in his fifties. “People feel uneasy.” Dressed in a full suit, he has loyally (and incongruously) manned the site’s empty post office for 20 years.

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