EXCLUSIVE: More Evidence that Trafficker Al-Bija Attended Training in Italy – Al Marsad

EXCLUSIVE: Al Marsad received today exclusive images of some of the pages of the draft agenda and list of participants for the “Study Visit of the Libyan Delegation to Italy” organised by the Italian Ministry of Interior in cooperation with the EU, the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), and the Regional Development and Protection Programme (RDPP) for North Africa—and which confirm that the notorious UN-sanctioned smuggler and human trafficker, Abd al-Rahman Salem Ibrahim Milad (or al-Bija) was one of the members of Libyan delegation which met in Rome and in Sicily from 8th-12th of May 2017. 

[Libya, 7 November 2019] – Two images received by Al Marsad of the “Study Visit of the Libyan Delegation to Italy” show details of the programme but also a list of names of the Libyan Coast Guard delegation and it includes the name of the notorious UN-sanctioned smuggler and human trafficker, Abd al-Rahman Milad (or al-Bija), listed as no.14 in the Libyan Coast Guard delegation list.

Draft programme of events for the Libyan Coast Guard delegation’s visit to Italy (8th-12th May 2017)

List of names of the Libyan Coast Guard delegation’s visit to Italy (8th-12th May 2017). Al-Bija is listed no.14.

The programme of the “Study Visit of the Libyan Delegation to Italy” was organised in the framework of the “Sea and Desert Migration Management for Libyan Authorities to Rescue Migrants” or SEA DEMM (See Them) which is funded by the Regional Development and Protection Programme (RDPP) for North Africa.

The programme shows that the delegation first visited on Day One (Monday 8th May 2017) the headquarters of IOM Rome at the Casale Strozzi Superiore; then to the Ministry of the Interior at the Piazza del Viminali to meet with their Department of Civil Liberties and Immigration and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to discuss Italian-Libyan relations and African-Mediterranean migration.

On Day Two (Tuesday 9th May 2017), they met with EUNAVFOR MED Op. Sophia for an update on past and future training programmes for the Libyan authorities; also with the Ministry of Interior’s Central Directorate for Immigration and Border Police at the Polo Tuscolano Polizia di Stato where they discussed best practices of the Italian police to manage irregular migration at border crossing points; then the Italian Coast Guard’s Italian Maritime Rescue Coordination Center in Rome where the Libya delegation which included al-Bija listened to a presentation on a EU-funded project to establish a Maritime Rescue and Coordination Centre (MRCC) in Libya.

It is not clear what the itinerary was for Day Three (Wednesday 10th May 2017) but we as the Italian journalists Nello Scavo and Nancy Porsia that on the Thursday 11th May 2017 the same Libyan Coast Guard delegation held meetings with Italian intelligence officials in Cara di Mineo, in the province of Catania, Sicily. One of the Europe’s biggest camp for migrants and asylum seekers is located in Cara di Mineo.

Photos from the meeting in Sicily on 11th May 2017 showing al-Bija only surfaced last month when they were published by the Italian newspaper Avvenire through the work of Nello Scavo and Nancy Porsia who first broke the story about the controversial meeting earlier on 11th May 2017 that al-Bija attended in Sicily with Italian intelligence officials to discuss imposing restrictions on the influx of migrants from Libya. The two journalists noted that the human trafficker al-Bija attended in his capacity as a “commander in the Libyan Coast Guard”.

Abd al-Rahman Milad, aka al-Bija, attending a meeting between Italian officials and the Libyan Coast Guard in May 2017.

Abd al-Rahman Milad, aka al-Bija, attending a meeting between Italian officials and the Libyan Coast Guard in May 2017.

The newspaper reported that al-Bija and other members of the Coast Guard are directly involved in the sinking of migrant boats using weapons. Although a freezing of assets and a travel ban outside Libya were requested in the UN Security Council dossier, al-Bija is still the Commander of the Zawiya branch of the GNA Libyan Coast Guard. He obtained this sensitive position thanks to the support of his tribal cousins, Mohammed Kachlaf and Walid Kachlaf.

UN Security Council report sanctioning Abd al-Rahman Milad (or Al-Bija)

A UN security report circulated two years ago, in June 2017, described al-Bija as “a bloodthirsty human trafficker responsible for shootings”, at the Mediterranean Sea and “suspected of drowning dozens of people.” He widely considered to be the ringleader of a criminal organization operating in the north western coastal city of Zawiya, 45 kilometers to the west of the Libyan capital, Tripoli.

The Guardian reported that “in February 2017, the then Italian Interior Minister Marco Minniti signed a memorandum with the leader of Libya’s UN-recognized government, Fayez al-Sarraj, introducing a new level of cooperation between the Libyan coastguard and the Italians, including the provision of four patrol vessels.” The controversial deal, according to The Guardian, “has empowered the Libyan coastguard to intercept migrant dinghies at sea and bring them back to Libya, where aid agencies say the migrants and refugees suffer torture and abuse. The deal, which entailed Italy providing funds and equipment, was made by Minniti, a former communist with deep connections to Italian intelligence and the levers of the Italian state, in an attempt to stem the flow of migrants to its shores.”

The Italian Interior Minister, Luciana Lamorgese reinforced the same agreement at a meeting in Malta with her counterparts from France, Germany and Malta. The human trafficker al-Bija was introduced at the meeting in May 2017 as a “Commander of the Libyan Coast Guard” dispatched by the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA) to represent the North African oil-rich country’s coast guard. A source in the Italian government told the newspaper that Rome did not know his identity.

Both the British and the Italian newspapers reported that the photos of al-Bija’s participation in the meeting were obtained from one of the attendees, and that the warlord and human trafficker arrived in Italy with a pass to attend the meeting which was also attended by North African delegates of international humanitarian agencies—no doubt unaware that they were sitting next to a warlord involved in the worst violations of human rights.

During a minibus tour in Sicily al-Bija was identified by a number of the migrants there on the day the meeting was held. According to the Italian newspaper, al-Bija requested from the Italian authorities to provide funds to facilitate managing the reception of the migrants on the Libyan territories.

Nello Scavo, the author of the article published by the Italian newspaper Avvenire, told the Guardian:

“there had always been suspicions about the agreement between the Libyan Coast Guard and the Italian Government. In the past, there had already been talk of the suspected involvement of traffickers in the Libyan coastguard. But now we have the evidence. It seems really strange that Italian intelligence was not aware of al-Bija’s identity. It is difficult to believe they were distracted.”

According to The Guardian, “detectives in Sicily have arrested three men who allegedly raped and tortured dozens of migrants in a detention centre in the north-west of Libya. Prosecutors in Agrigento have collected testimonies from numerous asylum seekers from North Africa who allegedly recognized their former captors at a migrant registration centre in Messina, Sicily.” Some refugees trafficked by al-Bija recognised him when he entered and started shouting “Libyan Mafia!”

The three detainees, a 27-year-old Guinean man and two Egyptians aged 24 and 26, are accused of torture, kidnapping and human trafficking—all of them work at a Migrants’ Detention Centre in Zawiya, the headquarters and operational centre of al-Bija.

In some of the migrants’ testimonies, contained in documents The Guardian mentioned that it had seen, asylum-seekers talk of a man who called himself “Abd al-Rahman” who was responsible for transferring the migrants to the shores. Some of the victims reported that he was the person deciding who to embark on the rafts. “He was a violent man and was armed; we all feared him,” said one witness in the report.

Al-Bija threatens the Italian Journalists

Italian police recently revealed that they were taking measures to protect Nello Scavo and Nancy Porsia, the two Italian journalists who broke the story in Avvenire about Al-Bija’s presence at the meeting in Sicily in May 2017. Both had received threats from Al-Bija since the publication of the story.

Al-Bija has threatened to sue both journalists over their accusations that he was a human trafficker. Nancy Porsia claimed she received a threat letter from al-Bija that included details about her life. The Italian union of journalists and other organizations have expressed solidarity with the two journalists and called on media outlets to pursue further the investigations started by Scavo and Porsia into the participation of Bija in Libyan illegal immigration officials’ meetings with Italian authorities.

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. Both individuals are sanctioned by the UN yet the GNA continues to do business with criminals with impunity.

The Scandal of al-Bija Continues

The revelation of the presence of the UN-sanctioned human trafficker al-Bija as a commander of the Libyan Coast Guard and also as a member of a Libyan delegation to Italy to meet with officials from Italy’s Ministry of Interior, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, EU, and the IMO has been a source of huge embarassment for the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA), particularly its Minister of Interior Fathi Bashagha, and the Italian government.

The Italian authorities deny an awareness of his previous background but given the access given to the delegation to high level meetings it is difficult to believe that Italian intelligence was not aware of Abd al-Rahman Milad’s criminal background.

The Tripoli-based GNA’s Minister of Interior Fathi Bashagha said that al-Bija was a wanted person and that he had issued an arrest warrant for him to the Libyan Coast Guard. However, Mohammed Saqer, the Libyan Coast Guard Western Region Directorate’s In-Charge said that his administration did not receive any arrest warrant against al-Bija, who was still a member of the Libyan Coast Guard in the western coastal city of Zawiya.

It is noteworthy that the man sanctioned by the UN Security Council appeared on Friday evening in a uniform indicating his rank of a naval captain in an interview with the Italian TV Channel La7 with the investigative journalist Francesca Mannocchi from inside the Libyan Coast Guard headquarters in the western coastal city of Zawiya. In the interview, al-Bija confirmed that he would continue to work within the Libyan Coast Guard of the UN-backed Government of National Accord. Al-Bija considered that the inclusion of his name in the sanctions lists issued by the Security Council as a human trafficker and fuel smuggler was based on malicious Facebook posts and press reports that were unfounded.

Italy’s Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio said that Italy would not halt its 2017 Memorandum of Understanding, a deal with Libya that was signed in to reduce migration. But the government pledged that it will work to improve the deal, “with special attention to migrant centers and conditions.” The deal was automatically renewed for another three years on 2nd November to huge criticism by human rights organisations. 

Italy’s Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio

Nicola Zingaretti, secretary of the Democratic Party (PD) has previously asked for ”radical change” in the Memorandum of Understanding. Associations working together under the name of “Tavolo Asilo” and the Liberi e Uguali political party had called for the complete annulment of the memorandum. Italian doctor, Valeria Alice Colombo said in an article published recently: “There is a clear reason why we will not cooperate with the Libyan Coast Guard. That is because allowing them to take migrants back to Libya is no rescue: it is an illegal action, banned by international law and the most basic human principles. This is a crime against fundamental human rights that we cannot tolerate. No matter the cost.” She argued that “Europe has backtracked from its moral duty to provide safety and rescue to people running away from the hell of Libyan prisons, deciding instead to cooperate with smugglers, militias and traffickers.”

© Al Marsad English (2019)

 

FURTHER RESOURCES

Coast Guard Claims No Arrest Warrant Issued for Trafficker Al-Bija

The Smuggler, the Medical Centre, and the Trafficker: Al-Kassab and Al-Bija

The GNA Human Trafficker: The Al-Bija Scandal