The GNA Human Trafficker: The Al-Bija Scandal – Al Marsad

One of Libya’s leading human traffickers, Abd al-Rahman al-Milad (or Al-Bija), and currently commander of the Libyan Coast Guards in Zawiya and a militia leader under the GNA, is seen in photos published by a leading Italian publication, stealing an engine from the same dinghy used by 53 migrants rescued last week by Sea Watch. Al-Bija continues to benefit from EU largesse under the cover of the GNA, and retains a stranglehold on the lucrative human trafficking business along the Zawiya coast.

[Libya, 20 June 2019] – Al-Marsad newspaper inspected aerial photos published by the Italian publication Avvenire that showed one of the Libyan patrol boats of what was described as “the naval coast guard in Zawiya”. The photos clearly showed men not wearing official uniforms searching and stealing contents of a dinghy from which last week 53 migrants were saved by Sea Watch. Sea Watch is a non-profit organization that conducts civil search and rescue operations in the central waters of the Mediterranean Sea.

In the Italian report by Avvenire reviewed and translated by Al Marsad, human trafficking is the latest scandal shaking the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA). The patrol boats are led by Abd al-Rahman al-Milad, or al-Bija, known as the “kingpin of Libya’s human trafficking” from the Western coastal city of Zawiya. Al Bija is accused of human rights abuses by the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague. According to the UN al-Bija heads up a coastguard team “consistently linked with violence against migrants and other human smugglers,” according to the UN. In an interview with Reuters he admitted: “Yes I strike migrants and this is so they sit correctly and don’t move about.”

Al-Bija is on French and international sanctions list, yet he is also a military commander in the GNA forces fighting in Tripoli. Although al-Bija has been sanctioned by the UN he has continued his work under the GNA unimpeded. Officially, he and his militias tackle migrant traffic, but in reality they seem to be benefitting from this task thanks to the hard cash paid by Italy and the EU.

A GNA Scandal

The aerial photos show al-Bija’s militiamen actually show that instead of saving the migrants, they were more interested in trying to steal the engine of the dinghy they apprehended. Some men were on the stern of the boat helping to steal the Yamaha engine. All of men were wearing casual clothes in an attempt to hide their official capacity as the GNA’s Libyan Coast Guard. The men actually stole the engine of the migrants’ boat.

Al-Bija militiamen stealing the engine from the migrants’ dinghy.

The reportage unveiled that al-Bija and his militiamen arrived at the scene as members of the Libyan Coast Guard yet they were not dressed in their official naval uniform. Instead, they were all in jeans, colored t-shirts, and beach shoes that made it difficult to identify them. They were on board of the Talil 267 patrol boat of the Libyan Coast Guard on which al-Bija himself has been spotted several times.

Al-Bija militiamen stealing the engine from the migrants’ dinghy.

The Talil patrol boat was recognizable through its old Soviet-made machine gun, the same one which al-Bija himself used to shoot NGO ships in the past. The photos by the Italian newspaper were obtained through an Italian aircraft patrolling the Mediterranean in collaboration with Sea Watch organization.

Militiaman Al-Bija onboard the Talil 267 Libyan Coast Guard Patrol Boat.

The Public Prosecutor’s Office at the International Criminal Court has lodged an indictment with the UN Security Council on Zawiya mismanagement of the migrants’ dossier. The western coastal city has turned into a fiefdom controlled by al-Bija and his militiamen. Al-Bija works and moves under official capacity with the complicity of the Government of National Accord (GNA). He continues to treat the migrants in a cruel, inhuman and degrading manner.

The report refers to the conclusion that the stakeholders directly or indirectly involved in the Libyan conflict are aware of the real situation on the ground and how the international funds allocated for the migrants’ issues are actually abused in Libya. The accusations refer to abuses in detention centers that are administered by the state authorities affiliated with the GNA such as the Department for Combating Illegal Migration. The UN Security file of accusations refers also to how smugglers and traffickers move the migrants across different stages of their journey. The investigations unveiled systematic violations especially in Misrata, Zawiya, Tripoli and Bani Walid.

According to concluded MOUs signed between Tripoli, Rome and Brussels, it is anticipated that by 2023 about EUR 285 million will be transferred to the so-called Libyan Coast Guard as per a programme launched in March, 2017.

The President of the Presidential Council, Fayez al-Sarraj, has previously presented a list of requirements to the Italian government. Al-Sarraj requested 10 ships for the search of migrants, 10 patrol boats, 4 helicopters, 24 rubber boats, 10 ambulances, 30 jeeps, 15 cars, 30 satellite phones, diving suits, daytime binoculars and night visors, tanks for oxygen and other equipment for a value not less than EUR 800 million. 

Head of the GNA Fayez Sarraj with the Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni Silveri

The report confirmed that the delivery of the requested items has already started without any tangible improvements as far as migrant human rights are concerned. In fact, Tripoli has become a safe haven for traffickers. Pirates like al-Bija were fortunate enough to receive double income—they get paid twice, from the migrants to help them escape, and from Europe which fund people al-Bija to prevent the very same blackmailed migrants from arriving to its shores.

According to the report, al-Bija owes much to Europe in terms of being employed as its Libyan Coast Guard in-charge thanks to European funds that are sent to the Tripoli-based GNA that receives the large funds from the generous “donors” in Rome and Brussels. According to the report, “as sanctioned by the United Nations, al-Bija must be in jail now facing charges of committing crimes against migrants. Instead, he is at large, enjoying his lucrative multifaceted activities; human-trafficking, securing an oil refinery, and working as a Coast Guard.”

Human Trafficking and Fighting in the GNA Ranks

The UN-recognized Government of National Accord (GNA) claims that al-Bija is a harmless individual. Fayez Sarraj, however, will be held responsible for people like al-Bija—now more than ever since al-Bija has put his militia at the disposal of the Prime Minister of the GNA in his fight against Field Marshal Haftar and the Libyan National Army (LNA).

The report pointed to the images of al-Bija fighting in Tripoli and celebrating the victories in the battle field with the other militiamen. It is therefore difficult for someone in the UN-recognized GNA to extradite al-Bija to the International Criminal Court (ICC) considering that he provides services for the same government supported by the United Nations itself.

The trafficker Al-Bija (red), the Tripoli Fighting Axis leader Firas Al Selougui a.k.a. Al Wahshi (the Savage) (black). May 2019.

The report mentions that al-Bija is recognizable by his crippled right hand, which was injured by a grenade explosion, and points that his illicit work will slow down migrant flow on a regular basis to satisfy European governments, even if it means that he has to sink a few dinghies with migrants along the way.

Al-Bija on board of the Talil 267 Libyan Coast Guard Patrol Boat on the day when they stole items from the migrant’s dinghy.

Al-Bija is also well known for extortion against migrants, and sources in Zuwara have reported that migrants who fall into the hands of al-Bija are often destined to die and drown. Since July 2018, al-Bija has been subject to sanctions by the United Nations Security Council, particularly a travel ban, asset freeze, and a block on all activities due to crimes being investigated by the International Criminal Court (ICC) at The Hague.

UN Security Council: Abd Al-Rahman Al-Milad (Al-Bija)

One document from the Prosecutor’s Office at the ICC stated that al-Bija and his militia were the recipients of one of the ships that Italy supplied to the Libyan Coast Guard, while some of his militiamen have benefited from an EU-training programme as part of Operation Sophia. Yet al-Bija is suspected of issuing orders to his men to fire on humanitarian rescue vessels and fishing vessels.

Trafficker Al Kassab (left) with trafficker Al Bija (right)

In an interview with the correspondent of Telegiornale (Tg1), al-Bija made it clear that in exchange for a generous contract to manage the security of the oil sites granted by Italian companies, he would refrain from doing other “business”. According to UN experts, there were cases of sinking migrant boats using firearms. Al-Bija also cooperated with other migrant traffickers such as Mohammed Kashlaf who, according to sources, provides him with protection to continuing to carry out illicit operations.

UN Security Council: Mohammed Kachlaf

Despite his deplorable résumé unfit for a statesman, al-Bija and his men continue to gain privilege, access and power without the slightest taint of embarrassment for his financiers.


The UN has begun using words of condemnation for what migrants are experiencing at the detention camps under the supervision of the GNA. Today, on 20 June on the occasion of World Refugee Day, a joint statement by the African Union–European Union–United Nations Task Force, stated that “over 3,600 people in need of international protection have been evacuated from Libya in view of further resettlement”. Migrants have confirmed that they were detained in inhumane conditions in GNA-secured and managed detention centers), and these conditions were documented and denounced in a report of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights last December 2018.

Rupert Colville, spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights spoke of a massacre against migrants, “with dozens of deaths due to tuberculosis” at Libyan detention centers due to systematic malnutrition—the same facilities for which Libya receives hundreds of millions of Euros from Europe and especially from Italy.

© Al Marsad English. 2019.


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