A Libyan people smuggler – responsible for helping transport thousands of migrants to Italy – has told Sky News that Europe can do nothing to stop the flow of human traffic across the Mediterranean.
In an exclusive interview the smuggler revealed that he makes tens of thousands of pounds exploiting Libya’s lack of security to get migrants to Italy.
That’s despite European nations, including Britain, hailing recent efforts by the coastguard and security forces to crack down on illegal crossings.
We meet the smuggler in a lawless area outside Tripoli. It’s a neighbourhood run by one of Libya’s smuggling mafias.
Setting up the interview has taken days of negotiations and when we meet our man who’s known as ‘Deboor’ he is clearly on edge.
The interview is conducted on condition of anonymity.
‘Deboor’ tells me he helped more than 3,000 Africans reach Italy last month, making around £40,000. The sums of money changing hands are huge he tells me.
“My job is taking people from Africa through areas like Bani Walid and Sabrata, we get them onto boats and transport them from these areas to the sea,” he says.
“In terms of my income it depends. Some people I get paid 1,000 dinars ($870) others 2,000 dinars ($1740). It depends on their nationality.”
He also says Europe will never be able to stop the problem whilst Libya remains in a state of virtual civil war.
The country is controlled by rival militias and is split between rival governments.
It is hard to enforce the law and because of that smuggling gangs like his flourish doing pretty much as they please.
“The security situation here (in Libya) is weak so people from Africa wanting to go Europe can move easily. You can’t say exactly how many people are leaving but it could reach more than 2,000 people in a week. It depends on the conditions at sea,” he says.
The interview ends suddenly. It’s too dangerous to continue he says then leaves.
We can hear the rattle of gunfire in the distance.
It isn’t clear who’s firing but he’s afraid because the smuggling business is vicious with fights and mafia style hits frequently breaking out between rival gangs.
The Libyan authorities are trying to crackdown on the illegal routes. They are under enormous pressure from the EU, particularly Italy, which is the arrival point in Europe for many of the illegal migrants.
We were told by a number of different sources that Italy is now paying Libya to stop the smuggling but this has led to armed conflict between different militias.
While we were there, there were furious clashes in and around Sabratha – the smuggling epicentre.
The problem Libya has is that the rule of law is weak because the state is almost non existent.
Libya may have got rid of Colonel Gadaffi but the revolution which promised so much has failed to deliver stability or security.
There is still no proper government.
It is perhaps unsurprising then that in some areas on the coast smuggling is estimated to make up more than 50% of the local economy.
We went on a patrol with the coastguard.
Its vessels have seen better days and are ill equipped to deal with this crisis.
Colonel Abujela Abdulbari said crossings have slowed because the smugglers are at war.
He also said by placing themselves 12 miles off the coast, European NGOs are making the problem worse.
“This is encouraging people to cross the sea a lot,” he says.
“The trip to Lampedusa used to take 35 hours, now it takes just four hours to reach the charities who are operating like a taxi service.”
Our voyage ended when rough seas in the middle of the night forced us to turn back to port – it shows just how difficult it is to police the coastline.
But despite the dangers more people are trying to cross to Italy everyday – Libya and Europe’s migrant crisis will continue.
But whatever the dangers and consequences, the smugglers say the tide of human traffic will keep on coming.
There will always be demand for their services whilst poverty and conflict afflict so many African countries.