Bangladesh’s government on Friday demanded that Libyan authorities arrest suspected militiamen who killed more than two dozen Bangladeshis in a mass shooting in Libya, a war-ravaged North African country that is a route for smuggling undocumented migrants to Europe.
Twenty-six Bangladeshis and four migrants from African countries were shot dead this week after some of them allegedly killed a man associated with an armed local group that took them hostage in Mizdah, a town about 180 km (112 miles) south of Tripoli, Bangladesh’s foreign ministry said.
Eleven other Bangladeshis were wounded in the shooting, five of them critically, officials said.
“We have asked for an investigation into the killing and punishment for the persons responsible for the massacre. We also urge the authorities to ensure the safety of the injured persons,” Bangladesh Foreign Minister A.K. Abdul Momen told BenarNews.
Dhaka’s diplomatic mission in the Libyan capital learned about the mass shooting after officials there were contacted by a migrant who survived the massacre and managed to escape, according to a statement from the foreign ministry.
“Our embassy in Libya has confirmed to us that 26 Bangladeshis died and 11 others were injured in the shooting. One of the Bangladeshis fled,” Momen said.
Thirty-eight Bangladeshis were taken hostage by a “group of miscreants” from a Libyan militia more than two weeks ago near Mizdah, as “human traffickers were herding the group to Tripoli for work from Benghazi,” a major port city in northeastern Libya, the ministry’s statement said.
The hostage takers had confined them to a room and tortured them to extract a ransom, the statement said.
“At one stage, the hostages killed the main leader of the militia group. As revenge, the militia[men] indiscriminately shot at them,” the ministry said.
However, news agency reports out of North Africa, quoting a statement from the internationally recognized Libyan Government of National Accord (GNA), said the family of a local human trafficker had killed the 30 migrants to get revenge.
According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), a U.N. agency, the migrants were killed at a smuggling warehouse in the Mizdah area on Wednesday.
“This senseless crime is a bleak reminder of the horrors migrants have to endure at the hands of smugglers and traffickers in Libya,” Federico Soda, the IOM’s chief of mission in Libya, said in a statement issued Thursday.
“These criminal groups are taking advantage of the instability and security situation to prey on desperate people and exploit their vulnerabilities,” he said as IOM called on GNA authorities to investigate the killings.
Meanwhile, Bangladesh’s top diplomat said six of the 11 injured Bangladeshis were out of danger, but the remaining five were in critical condition and were being treated at hospitals in Libya.
Bangladesh’s government has contacted the IOM to ask for its help in returning the bodies of the slain Bangladeshis, Momen said. Their corpses were being kept at a mortuary in Mizdah.
Victim’s brother: Smugglers demanded 1 million taka
The migrants were lured to Libya by traffickers who were to arrange to send them to Europe, but at a steep price, the foreign minister said.
“Each of them paid the human traffickers U.S. $10,000 to $12,000 to reach Europe. Four African migrants were also in the group,” Momen told BenarNews, citing information given to the embassy by the man who notified it about the shooting.
One of the Bangladeshi victims, Samrat Khalashi, was being treated for injuries at a hospital in Tripoli, his older brother said.
“Recently, I came to know that the Bangladeshi agents of the human traffickers were to take him to Italy. My brother told me that they started the journey from Benghazi,” said his sibling, Selim Khalashi.
“The traffickers demanded 1 million taka (U.S. $11,760) from my brother. But we do not have the ability to pay a fraction of the amount,” he told BenarNews.
Bangladesh’s government has no official figures for how many of its citizens work in Libya or travel through the oil-rich nation, which is in the grip of a civil war, as they try to cross the Mediterranean Sea to reach Europe.
In January 2019, Bangladeshis were among as many as 70 migrants from various countries who drowned after the boats they were being smuggled in capsized in the Mediterranean Sea during the crossing from Libya.
Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee (BRAC) – Bangladesh’s largest NGO – reported 15,000 Bangladeshis work in Libya.
“Libya has no effective government. So, Bangladesh officially stopped sending workers to Libya since 2015. The authorities should investigate and find out how so many people from Bangladesh have been going to Libya with the help of the human traffickers,” Shariful Hasan, the head of BRAC’s migration unit, told BenarNews.
One of the Bangladeshis working in Libya is Md Aslam, who spoke by phone to BenarNews on Friday.
“We have been working here in fear,” said Aslam, who is employed in Libya as an oil worker. “Many of the Bangladeshis come to Libya with the goal of going to Europe.”
“We are in fear of whether we, the Bangladeshis, will be attacked,” he told BenarNews. “Where will we seek protection?”