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UN agency voices concern over safety of migrants in Libya
July 2, 2017, 1:05 pm

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) reports efforts are ongoing to rescue around 200 migrants, from Somalia and Ethiopia, who have been kidnapped in Libya and are being held for ransom.

News of the kidnappings and illegal detentions in Libya first surfaced in a video, which appeared on Facebook on 9 June. The IOM says families of the missing men and women have received ransom demands based on short video clips depicting scenes of active torture.

IOM spokesman Joel Millman said while the source of the video is not known, there was little doubt about its veracity. He said the scenes of people, dozens to a room, are graphic. "We understand that there are cases of people being tortured by cement blocks being put on their chest or on their back," he said. "There are limbs broken. There are scars and cases of slack, listless men who appear to be emaciated. The witnesses themselves complain about not having been fed for quite some time."

Millman said the criminal gangs use social media platforms to transmit their demand that families pay ransoms of $8,000 or more for the release of their loved ones. He said the families often sell their livestock and other assets to meet these demands.

There is nothing new about the slaving industry, he said, as it has been around throughout history. What is new, he added, is the ready availability of digital devices and of high speed communication, even to some of the poorest villages in the world. This gives criminals an opportunity to profit from the digital age, which was not possible a generation ago and this is probably going to get worse."

The IOM said it is working with partners to try to locate the migrants and its staff, in coordination with authorities in Libya, is trying to trace and potentially aid in the rescue of these victims.

Politically-unstable Libya is a transit point for migrants seeking to head to Europe. The lack of a stable government makes them vulnerable to abuse and exploitation. Migrants and refugees traveling from the Horn of Africa are particularly vulnerable

The IOM also drew attention to the increasing trend of abuse of digital and social media platforms by smugglers or criminal gangs and called on such firms to be more vigilant. Social media, including Facebook, has a duty to better police content on its channels. We are not accusing Facebook of complicity, but merely emphasizing that these channels are being abused by criminals,” said Leonard Doyle, chief spokesperson for IOM in Geneva.

"It is high time that social media and tech companies recognize the extreme harm that is occurring because of their failure to monitor and react to situations of grave human rights abuses that are being shared through their channels," he added.

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