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Sea Watch 3. Screenshot from BBC video

Libyan smugglers advertise their services on Facebook

Are human traffickers coordinating with NGO migrant ferries when they transport Africans to a rendezvous just off the coast of Libya?

Published: September 22, 2019, 9:51 am

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    An Italian investigative journalist posed as a Tunisian and called the smugglers, using information gleaned from Facebook.

    The smugglers advertising their services on social media are competing with one another for trade, so their offers are as appealing as possible to attract potential customers.

    It costs €2500 per person to be taken from Tunisia to Libya and then Italy, one smuggler told the undercover journalist. A video of the trafficker in Zuwara, Libya, was published on September 12 on the Facebook page.

    In his presentation he writes: “Trips from Libya to Italy”. The people heard in the particular audio recorded by the reporter are like other traffickers who claim to be in contact with people on board the NGO ships. “I’ll set it up with them and come get you.”

    The smuggler is called ‘Phares’. The reporter contacted him through an accomplice who pretended to be a migrant ready to leave.

    The smugglers post regular updates on social media. “I’ll send them a message and tell you when a ship is embarking,” the smuggler says. The traffickers claim to be in contact with NGO ships, but may just be a strategy to convince the immigrants to pay up.

    For certain, these immigrants in the images trust the smugglers and after they throw their ID cards into the sea, a ship appears. It is impossible to tell what kind it is from the images, but the vessel approaches migrants in order to help them.

    “With a profile on Facebook, we succeed in entering the organised groups who arrange trips to Italy. In Zuwara alone we found dozens of them, a competition that pushes traffickers to continually publicize photos and videos of their trips, as well as updates on the presence of NGO ships in the Mediterranean,” said the journalist.

    There is even a photo where one sees the logo of Sea Eye. It was taken on board one of the NGO rescue boats, and the traffickers utilize this photo to demonstrate that their trips are safe.

    The traffickers also posted: “Free, liberate Carola Rackete”. Rakete is the German captain who was detained by Italian authorities for ignoring Matteo Salvini’s ban on port entries.

    In order to insure that their trips depart in secrecy, one of the strategies is to share the positions of the rescue ships in the Mediterranean. In the case of Open Arms, the trafficker reported: “Good news. The rescue ships have arrived off of the coast of Zuwara.”

    The traffickers are confident that the rescue vessels will pick up their human cargo. “Even if the Sea Watch isn’t there, we’ll do everything and we’ll see who is there,” says a trafficker called Isham. He doesn’t waste time since he has understood that that the migrants wanted to be assured of the presence of the NGO ships.

    Isham also showed that he was in contact with the Facebook page of Sea Watch. “Can you tell me the exact position of your ship in respect to Zuwara? We are in the Mediterranean Sea exactly 60 nautical miles from Zuwara. Therefore, there is a boat arriving next week. Are you going to be there?

    “We’ll remain in the sea for five days, and we are always here to save people’s lives,” the rescue vessel reponds.

    But when looking closely at the detail however, the word “watch” is written in small case letters. The Italian reporters analyzed the chronology of the modifications of the page, and discovered that up until October 23 2015, the name had been written in small case, just as in the message. The conversation, if true, would be incidental, but in that period, the image used in the profile, as Sea Watch presents itself, was different.

    IT consultants who analyzed the photo informed the reporter that while not being able to confirm 100 percent that it is false, but it is probable that it is an evidently high level of sophistication reached by the traffickers to convince immigrants to depart.

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