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Thousands of trapped migrants discovered in Libya

International | Crisis began after Italy paid local militias to curb migrant flows
by Onize Ohikere
Posted 10/10/17, 05:11 pm

Rescue groups in Libya’s northwestern city of Sabratha said thousands of migrants have been trapped in the smuggling hub as rival militia groups battled for control since mid-September. Officials said the clashes began after Italy struck a deal with two militia groups to stem migrant flows.

The United Nations migration agency said rescue groups transferred at least 4,000 people, including pregnant women, newborn babies, and unaccompanied children, out of the city. Anti-ISIS Operation Room, created last year to clear Islamic State militants out of Sabratha, has taken control of the city, spokesman Saleh Graisia said. More than 90 people died and thousands others were displaced. Sadeeq Al-Jayash, head of the emergency committee in the city of Zuwara, said hundreds of migrants arrived there from Sabratha. “They came walking in groups,” Jayash told Reuters. “For example, there were various groups that came on Sunday—50, then 100, and 200 at night.”

Sabratha served as the major departure point for migrants traveling across the Mediterranean Sea into Europe. Italy faced the highest number of migrants entering from Libya as many other European nations refused to accept them. The Italian government and Libya’s UN-backed Government of National Accord in July asked Libya’s clan-based militias to help block migrant boats at sea. Bashir Ibrahim, spokesman for the al-Ammu militia, said Italy provided the group with equipment, boats, and salaries. The tactic has worked to an extent: Migrant arrivals have dipped significantly in the past few months. But the deal triggered backlash from other local militias that grew into the latest Sabratha clashes, according to local officials.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein last month warned that Europe’s strategy is “very thin on the protection of the human rights of migrants inside Libya and on the boats.” Ebrahim Deen, an analyst with the South Africa–based Afro–Middle East Center, said Italy’s tactic shows the country is willing to solve the migration crisis on its end with no regard for the atrocities in Libya.

“It shows the implementation of international laws is only adopted when it’s deemed in the interest of global powers,” Deen said. “Until these countries start looking at a Libya-centered approach, we’ll see these conflicts happen.”

Associated Press/Photo by Heng Sinith Associated Press/Photo by Heng Sinith Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen

Cambodian government moves to silence opposition

Cambodia’s government on Friday filed a lawsuit to dissolve the country’s main opposition party, a move that could help Prime Minister Hun Sen extend his three-decade rule in the country’s elections next year. Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak said the ruling party petitioned the Supreme Court to disband the Cambodia National Rescue Party on grounds that party officials conspired with foreigners to topple the government. Cambodia’s Supreme Court last month charged opposition party leader Kem Sokha with treason for working with the United States to oust Hun Sen. The case cited a 2013 video clip in which Kem Sokha mentioned he received advice from U.S. pro-democracy groups. Several senior opposition leaders have fled the country, fearing arrest. The opposition party denied the allegations, calling them a politically motivated step. Cambodia’s government within the past month clamped down on critics as it shut down an English newspaper, The Cambodia Daily. The government also closed several other radio stations that use content from Voice of America and Radio Free Asia. —O.O.

Associated Press/Photo by Massoud Hossaini Associated Press/Photo by Massoud Hossaini Children look toward the site of a suicide attack on Sept. 24 in Kabul.

UN reports on widespread child abuse in conflict zones

More than 15,000 children died or faced sexual violence and other forms of abuse in 20 war-torn countries last year, the UN said in a report released Thursday. The annual report on Children and Armed Conflict recorded the highest number of child casualties in Afghanistan, totaling at 3,512 children killed or maimed. The UN said government forces carried out at least 4,000 of the total attacks, while 11,500 attacks were carried out by non-government groups. Other countries include Yemen, Syria, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Armed terror groups such as Boko Haram, al-Shabaab, and Islamic State (ISIS) employed “abhorrent tactics” such as sexual violence and suicide bombings against children, the report said. “Such abuses have a dramatic impact, not only on the lives of children, but also on the social fabric of society in affected countries and on global peace and security,” said Virginia Gamba, the UN Children and Armed Conflict envoy. —O.O.

International Red Cross cuts back in Afghanistan

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) on Monday announced it would reduce its operations in Afghanistan after facing multiple attacks this year in the country’s northern region. Earlier in February, suspected ISIS militants killed six Afghan ICRC staff members after attacking their convoy. The militants in September released two ICRC employees abducted in the February attack. A patient at ICRC’s rehabilitation center last month shot and killed Lorena Enebral Perez, a 38-year-old Spanish physiotherapist. Monica Zanarelli, who heads ICRC in Afghanistan, said the group would shut down two of its offices in the country’s north and also downsize its activities in the northern Balkh province. “Limiting our staff’s exposure to risks is our focus, all the while assisting the people affected by the conflict the best way we can,” she said. —O.O.

UN recognizes Nigerian for work with Boko Haram survivors

Zannah Mustapha last week received the United Nations refugee agency’s Nansen award for his efforts to educate children orphaned by Boko Haram’s insurgency. Mustapha in 2007 set up a school for orphans and vulnerable children in Borno state, the center of the fighting, after witnessing growing numbers of children on the streets. The students receive free meals, clothes, and healthcare. The lawyer also helped to negotiate with the Nigerian government for the release of some of the kidnapped Chibok schoolgirls. “When I look at the children’s faces, I see resilience and stability,” Mustapha said as he received the award. “I feel utter contentment when I walk through the school gates.” —O.O.

Closed-door trials begin for Boko Haram suspects

A Nigerian military court on Monday started trials for more than 1,600 suspected Boko Haram militants. The mass trial is the largest since the group launched its insurgency. Justice Binta Nyako said the suspects would receive a fair trial amid human rights concerns from lawyers and rights groups. The proceedings began at the Wawa Military Cantonment in Nigeria’s Niger state with detainees from holding centers within the state and from Maiduguri, Boko Haram’s former stronghold. —O.O.

Onize Ohikere

Onize is a reporter for WORLD Digital based in Abuja, Nigeria.

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