Harrowing details are now emerging about the rape and brutality suffered by the hundreds of Eritrean and Somali migrants who boarded the ill-fated fishing boat that sank off the coast of Lampedusa, Italy, more than four weeks ago.
According to reports, human trafficking gangs operating in the region move thousands of vulnerable Africans across the Sahara to Libya every year. Once there, they are detained in holding facilities, which Italian prosecutors liken to concentration camps. Sometimes they are held for months until they can pay thousands of dollars demanded by the traffickers.
Testimonies from many of the female migrants reveal that rape and torture in the camps were commonplace. Witnesses also spoke of being forced to watch as men were tied up and beaten with batons and given electric shocks to their feet.
For the women who could not pay, they were systematically abused and sexually assaulted.
Those who are able to raise the money are handed over to another branch of the organization — which in return for even more money arranges the perilous boat journey to Europe. At the center of the Lampedusa tragedy in which more than 360 people died is Mouhamud Elmi Muhhidin, a Somali identified by the shipwreck survivors as one of the key players in the trafficking ring.
Muhhidin was arrested by Italian police and faces a number of serious charges, including kidnapping, sexual assault and supporting illegal immigration. If convicted, he faces up to 30 years in prison.
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(Photo: Patrick Lux/Getty Images)