Fake coast guards and taxi cabs fuel refugee crisis

Migrants arrive at a naval base in Tripoli after they were rescued by Libyan coastal guards on Saturday. (Reuters)
Updated 27 November 2017

Fake coast guards and taxi cabs fuel refugee crisis

YAOUNDE, Cameroon: When uniformed men boarded the overloaded rubber dingy carrying Christelle Timdi and her boyfriend to a new life in Europe, she thought the Italian coast guard had come to rescue them. But the men took out guns and began to shoot. “Many people fell in the sea,” the 32-year-old Cameroonian said as she described seeing her boyfriend, Douglas, falling in the water and disappearing into the darkness.
The gunmen took Timdi and her fellow passengers back to Libya where they were locked up, raped, beaten and forced to make calls to their families back home for ransom payments to secure their freedom.
Libya’s UN-backed government has said it is investigating and has promised to bring the perpetrators to justice.
“I saw it with my own eyes,” she said, describing how she had seen a Senegalese man buying an African migrant.
Timdi said many traffickers posed as marine guards, police officers and taxi drivers to ensnare victims.
There were around 130 other migrants on her boat when the gunmen opened fire in the middle of the night, Timdi said.
After being taken back to Libya they were locked in an abandoned factory building where men would grab and rape the girls and women — and sometimes even the men.
“We tried to hide the younger girls among us,” Timdi said, describing the terrifying moments when the guards would scour the room with torches, searching for their next victims.
“I was heavily pregnant — that’s why I wasn’t raped. And it’s all done in front of others — they say it’s so that you know what will happen to you if you don’t pay up.”
Timdi said the facilities used by traffickers appeared to be well organized and guarded, adding that most people inside wore fake police or military uniforms.
“The place was surrounded by army-style vehicles with guns ready to fire, so we didn’t dare try and escape.”
Timdi’s family paid 1 million CFA francs ($1,800), frantically collected from relatives and friends, to free her. But she said ransoms were no guarantee of safety.
The traffickers work with a network of taxi drivers who are supposed to transfer released migrants to migrant camps — but who often re-traffick them, Timdi said.
“If they send you a good taxi, you’ll arrive at your destination, but if it’s a bad taxi the driver will sell you on to someone else,” she said.
“There are people who have been resold twice, three times. And when you call your family to tell them that you’ve been resold once again, no one will believe you, they won’t send more money to free you.”
Timdi was released by her captors in October and gave birth to a baby girl, Brittanie, in a Libyan hospital just days later.
Foka Fotsi, a Cameroonian migrant who was trafficked twice, said the clandestine trafficking networks in Libya comprised many nationalities.
Those in charge of one of the places where he was held included Ghanaians and Nigerians, he said.
Unable to find work to support his family, Fotsi decided to leave Cameroon last year, but fell into the hands of a Libyan kidnap ring before reaching Europe.
“There was torture like I’ve never seen. They hit you with wooden bats, with iron bars,” he said, removing the hood of his sweatshirt and showing the still raw red wounds on his skull.
“They hang you from the ceiling by (your) arms and legs and then throw you down to the floor. They swing you and throw you against the wall, over and over again, ten times. “They are not human beings. They are the devil personified.”
Timdi and Fotsi were among 250 Cameroonians who were flown home this week by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) as part of a voluntary return scheme for migrants stranded in Libya.


Turkey picks up the pieces after devastating quake

Updated 31 October 2020

Turkey picks up the pieces after devastating quake

  • Although the local residents are used to living with frequent tremors, the 7.0 magnitude quake on Friday evening was the biggest they had experienced

ANKARA: Canan Gullu was having coffee with her friends on her balcony when the quake struck. The head of the Ankara-based Women Associations of Turkey, she had decided to spend the weekend in her summer house in the coastal town of Seferihisar after sleepless nights spent helping victims of domestic violence in the capital.

The teacups fell on the ground, and they hid under a table until they feel safer.

“I felt the building shaking, then the house began moving toward the house next door. It was as if the ground was moving back and forth under our feet. We could barely stand,” Gullu told Arab News.

It was followed by a mini-tsunami that hit the district where she was living.

“I am now focusing on providing essential goods for the women living on the streets or whose buildings collapsed. It is the other face of poverty in Turkey,” Gullu said.

The powerful quake that hit Turkey’s western province of Izmir on Oct. 30 revealed the weak infrastructure of the country’s building stock. Although the local residents are used to living with frequent tremors, the 7.0 magnitude quake on Friday evening was the biggest they had experienced; it was as powerful as the 1999 earthquake near Istanbul when more than 17,000 people died.

The search and rescue operations continued on Saturday, with touching footages showing a mother and her three children as well as a cat and a dog being rescued 18 hours after being trapped under the debris of their building.

Turkish survivors continue to stay outside in the tents provided by the municipality for fear of aftershocks. Some hotel and restaurant owners offered free rooms and free dinners to the traumatized people.

To prevent traffic blocking rescue efforts, the authorities have banned vehicles entering the city center.

Friday’s quake killed more than 30 people in Turkey and the neighbouring Greek islands, although that figure was expected to rise. Almost 900 people were injured, with 243 under treatment and eight in intensive care, officials said.

Despite their diplomatic row over energy drilling operations in the waters of the eastern Mediterranean, Turkish and Greek officials exchanged solidarity messages on Twitter.

“Whatever our differences, these are times when our people need to stand together,” Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis tweeted.

Many people were still waiting for news of relatives trapped under the debris.

Izmir is crossed by 17 different fault lines and has been prone to frequent tremors in the past. The quake resilience of the buildings in the city and unplanned urbanization have come under the spotlight, sparking criticism of the authorities.

The Turkish government issued a controversial zoning amnesty ahead of the general elections of 2018, resulting in 10 million illegally constructed buildings throughout the country.

These were eligible for legitimate deeds, with disastrous consequences during the quakes. Izmir tops the list for the number of illegal buildings that were “forgiven” by a government move to garner more votes.

Several buildings that benefited from that amnesty have collapsed over the years, killing dozens of people. Estimates say that one-fifth of the buildings in Istanbul could be completely destroyed in a quake with a magnitude of 7 or above.

In a past interview, Turkey’s famous contractor Ali Agaoglu, who was proud of selling massive residences to Arab clients, confessed that his company used sand from the Marmara Sea during their construction work. “If there is an earthquake in Istanbul, (the number of the dead and collapsed buildings will be so high that) the army won’t even be able to enter the city,” he said.

Turkey’s earthquake tax was also the subject of intense debate earlier this year with the quakes in eastern provinces of Elazig and Malatya, after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said: “We spent it where it was meant to be spent. And after this, we do not have time to provide accountability for matters like this.”

Special taxes were levied in Turkey after the 1999 earthquake and were later made permanent. However, there is widespread skepticism about whether these taxes were spent on quake resilience or whether they only helped the state budget at that time.