‘This is a lawless place’: Australia’s Somali community expresses concern for relatives in Libya

epa04186845 An image made available on 30 April 2014 shows migrants being rescued during operation 'Mare Nostrum' in the southern Mediterranean sea off the Italian coast, 29 April 2014. The Mare Nostrum ('Our Sea') mission started in October following two fatal shipwrecks - one near Lampedusa, Italy's southernmost point, and the other in Maltese waters - in which more than 400 people died. The Mediterranean boat patrols credited for saving tens of thousands of migrants' lives may have to be stopped, an Italian government official suggested, because they were encouraging more people to embark on dangerous sea crossings. EPA/GIUSEPPE LAMI

A Facebook video authenticated by the aid agency Amnesty International shows malnourished African captives – most of them thought to be Somalis – crammed into concrete cells.

Some are forced to contact family members and describe their unimaginable torture – other times it’s the captors, criminals who have seized control in lawless regions of Libya demanding money.

Aden Ibrahim, a leader in Melbourne’s Somali community, said the ransom is generally around US$8,000.

“This is a lawless place, so once the person has been called and if the person hasn’t paid the ransom money in time that person may be used as body parts, or worse maybe shot dead … basically mutilated,” Mr Ibrahim said.

Mr Ibrahim also has a confronting collection of photographs provided by Australian-based Somalis who have been contacted by captured relatives – or by the criminals themselves.
“They actually call you to tell you only few bones have been broken but the person’s still alive and if you don’t pay they’ll be finished,” he said

But not even ransom payment guarantees release, and there is no single government for authorities to lobby in Libya.

Elaine Pearson is the director at the Sydney-based aid agency Human Rights Watch and says it’s time authorities and governments consider how they can intervene.

“There’s been a complete breakdown of law and order in the country. There’s no justice system to speak of so in that vacuum it’s allowed criminal groups to act with impunity,” Ms Pearson said.

Mr Ibrahim is urging all Australian Africans to warn relatives considering passage through Libya.

“They have to be a little bit more vigilant and instead of hearing their loved ones in a camp in Libya they should advise them before they go,” he said.