The U.N. refugee agency says more than a dozen Africans who were held captive by human traffickers in Libya have been killed and many others wounded while trying to escape.The UNHCR says victims were among a group of some 200 Eritrean, Ethiopian and Somali migrants and refugees.
The incident happened last week in Bani Walid, about 180 kilometers southeast of the Libyan capital, Tripoli. U.N. refugee agency spokesman William Spindler said this is just the latest horror story coming out of Libya, where people are being held by human traffickers in horrific conditions and sold into modern day slavery.
"According to the survivors," he added, "people were shot while trying to escape and during attempts to recapture them.The survivors spoke of torture, abuse and exploitation at the hands of traffickers — some being held in captivity for up to three years."
Spindler said local Libyan authorities have transferred 140 people who managed to escape to an official detention center. He said UNHCR has been distributing relief items and screening the survivors to identify those in need of international protection.
He told VOA it is more difficult to provide protection for refugees than it is for people classified as economic migrants.
"If they are economic migrants and they can return to their country of origin, then IOM [International Organization for Migration] helps them to do that," he said. "... When it is the case of refugees, they cannot return to the country of origin, then we need to find a different solution involving third countries."
Spindler said the UNHCR believes it is likely many refugees and migrants who tried to escape may be hiding from the traffickers, while others remain in captivity.
He said survivors include a number of unaccompanied children, who are particularly vulnerable, and the UNHCR is trying to find appropriate solutions for them.