Abakoula Argalaless (50) is a Touareg, now living in Maastricht, who fled Libya in 1991. Two of his cousins were abducted there recently, with the kidnappers demanding a ransom of 3,900 euros per person. Abakoula was given a mobile phone number to contact the abductors: “When I called them, I could hear them torturing my cousins.”
His story is a shocking record of the chaos in Africa, the growing stream of migration to the North, the lucrative business of human trafficking – which has spread over Egypt, Sudan and Libya – and failing European immigration policies.
Like his cousins, Argalaless is a Touareg from Niger. Assassinated Libyan leader Muammar Gadaffi once called on the Touaregs in surrounding nations to come to Libya. He cultivated a myth of nomadic Touaregs as fearsome warriors and rulers of the desert. “Thousands of Touaregs answered his call,” according to Abakoula. He and some of his relatives made the trip to neighboring Libya.
When Libya wanted to enlist him in the military, he decided to flee to Europe. “The same officer who recruted us, turned out to also be a human trafficker.” In 1991, Abakoula arrived at Amsterdam Central Station. Alone. “I came straight from the jungle, with no education. I knew nothing and couldn’t understand anyone.”
Abakoula stayed in asylum centers, learned to speak Dutch, settled in the southern province of Limburg and married a local woman from Maastricht, with whom he had three children. He started the Aman-Iman Foundation to help improve the situation in and around his birth town in Niger.
During the last couple of weeks he has been desperately trying to buy his cousins’ freedom. After Gadaffi was executed in 2011 and the state of Libya collapsed, the lives of many black Africans there turned into a nightmare. Abuse, violence and abductions have become daily occurences. “Anti-black racism is a natural part of the Arabic world,” Abakoula recounts. “I am a Muslim, but people would ask me why I bother praying, as I would end up in Hell anyway, where my black skin would be burned off.”
To help his relatives escape danger in Libya, Abakoula arranged for them to return to Niger and found employment for them there. “My cousins couldn’t re-adjust to life in the desert. They have lived in Libya their entire lives and decided to go back.”
It was a fatal decision. The men were arrested at a check point, taken away and held at an unknown location together with dozens more hostages.
Abakoula shows photographs and a video with his cousins. The men stare into the lens, terror in their eyes. One of his cousins’ back has been completely beaten to a pulp. Argalaless, with horror in his voice: “Another video I was sent showed the hostage takers lighting a woman on fire and then dousing her with water. Other hostages were branded on the forehead. It’s incomprehensible that people could do this to others.”
He does not know who the hostage takers are. Terror groups like Islamic State are active in Libya and criminal gangs are free to do as they please. “There are three so-called governments and public servants conspire with the criminal. They make millions in the abduction industry.”
In a cynical twist of irony, hundreds of thousands of migrants from Dark Africa are trying to reach Europe by going through Libya. Stopping them would be exposing them to the inhumane circumstances in lawless Libyan camps. A lot of them feel that risking their lives at sea is their only option. But they literally pay a high price for that.
“Human traffickers in Libya are taken advantage of the pressure being applied from Europe,” Abakoula says. “They are saying, ‘Europe wants to stop you, so we have to take bigger risks, and that means you’ll have to pay more.’ People like my cousins, who have lived in Libya for years, are now treated like immigrants and are being exploited. Especially those with relatives in Europe, willing to pay a ransom.”
Poverty, civil war, draught, Western military interventions: there are many different reasons that have caused the mass migration from Africa we are seeing today. Argalaless fears that flow of migrants will not be reduced as long as the West refuses to make clear decisions. “People will always keep trying, if they see just the slightest chance of finding happiness elsewhere,” he says, referring to his cousins who returned to Libya in spite of the dangers awaiting them.
His advice: “Europe should accept refugees trying to escape war zones, but needs to make it clear to economic migrants that there is no place for them here. They have to stay and build their own countries.” He points out the dangers of mass immigration. “Look at the tensions within the Turkish community. These people are bringing their conflicts with each other with them to Europe. The human traffickers have become incredibly wealthy, and I fear they are expanding their criminal networks into Europe. They will be at our doorstep soon. It is incomprehensible that Western politicians are so slow to respons to this.”
Abakoula’s cousins were released last week, but he cannot say under which conditions. “They were ditched on the side of a road somewhere, more dead than living. My uncle picked them up there.” His next goal is to get them to Niger, out of Libya.
Translated from Dutch. Original article from mainstream media newspaper Algemeen Dagblad by one of the rare journalists with integrity, Wierd Duk.