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NLTimes.nl: Hundreds of Eritreans in the Netherlands victims of smuggling network

Posted by: Berhane Habtemariam

Date: Saturday, 25 February 2023

Human trafficking illustration
Human trafficking inllustration - Credit: svanhorn /

Thousands of Eritrean migrants have been mistreated in Libya by an internationally operating human smuggling network, according to Dutch Public Prosecution Service (OM). In the process, they were mistreated and imprisoned by the people smugglers and their relatives were extorted to pay ransom. Today, hundreds of the victims live in the Netherlands. 191 witnesses have testified to the Dutch prosecution about the human rights violation.

The victims want to remain anonymous out of fear of retaliation by the regime and possible negative consequences for their Eritrean relatives. "There were three large sheds on the compound, with more than 2,000 people in each shed," one of the victims told TV program Nieuwsuur. "Some sleep at night and others during the day, because there is not enough room for everyone to sleep at the same time."

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Human rights violations range from violence to rape. Victims reported being beaten with garden hoses and sticks, which were recorded on video. Furthermore, Eritrean women were taken from sheds by smugglers and raped, which was sometimes also filmed, according to one of the victims, NOS reported.

According to OM, the human smuggling network have earned millions of euros from the fact that they called the relatives of the Eritrean migrants in the Netherlands to pay a ransom. "We see that an exploitation system has been devised, a criminal revenue model in which people are seen as commodities," said press officer Gerben Wilbrink of the National Public Prosecutor's Office to NOS.

 

The prosecution has been aware of the human smuggling network for some time and have had them on their radar since 2018 and were able to detain two ringleaders of the network. They were charged with participation in a criminal organization, human trafficking, and aggravated assault.

One of the two ringleaders is Eritrean Tewelde G., known as Walid, and is detained in the Netherlands. The second main suspect is Eritrean Kidane Zekarias H., who has been on the Dutch wanted list since 2021 and had previously fled Ethiopia. He is still detained in Dubai. Five other people who were responsible for collecting the ransom from the victims' relatives have also been arrested, the TV programme reported.

But the smugglers alone have not been involved in the human rights violations. According to Eritrea expert Mirjam van Reisen of Tilburg University, the Eritrean regime is also involved in the human smuggling network and extortion in the Netherlands. It is a "closed system" in which the smugglers work with middlemen in the Netherlands who are linked to the Eritrean regime.

However, the Embassy of Eritrea in The Hague denies these allegations, announcing "The Embassy of Eritrea strongly rejects the fabricated allegations against the Eritrean government by these so-called Tilburg University researchers." The embassy also wrote that it "fully supports the legal action taken by the Dutch prosecution against human smugglers," NOS reported.

 
 

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