An intelligence report seen exclusively by the Saturday Standard details the sordid journey of five Kenyans from the relative calmness of their homes to the rough and tumble world of the Libyan slave market where, together with thousands of other African immigrants, they were sold to the highest bidder.
The five, through an elaborate trafficking route set out and charted by one of Libya’s most notorious and feared smuggling groups, the Magafe Network, left Nairobi and embarked on a journey that would change their lives forever. The ended up on the dusty, windy Libyan desert where they were sold for next to nothing, leaving their families in turmoil and concern.
“The Magafe Network lures unsuspecting and naïve youth under the pretext of offering employment and money while others are enticed by the Jihad narrative and the fight for a Muslim caliphate,” the report reads. “Once they successfully have the gullible candidates, they link them up with the Kenyan associates of the Magafe Syndicate based in Eastleigh who would later transport them through their various routes to Libya.”
The five, excited by the promise of thrill, monetary gains, a life of freedom and relative abandon as members of terror group ISIS, left Nairobi through one of the most common and most profitable trafficking routes for recruiters.
With the allure of a renegade life beckoning, they left Nairobi and headed to Busia by road. They then crossed over to Uganda and made their way to Kampala before snaking into Juba in war-torn South Sudan. Their next destination was Khartoum before eventually making it to Libya.
However, the promises of the life they envisioned was not to come. The harsh Libyan climate and an arduous training regime by the terror group saw them lose favour in the eyes of their would-be employers.
“They were found to be no longer useful to the terror group and eventually sold off in the slave markets,” the intelligence report says. “It is believed that the fallout was not only as result of the Kenyans not being able to easily adapt to the harsh weather conditions but also from the fact that some of them wanted out.”
Once one joins the groups, they cannot leave voluntarily.
The Libyan slave markets have been described as some sort of vortex, where time moves backwards to the days of slavery when grown men and women were hawked to the highest bidders.
Forced to pay a ransom
Each year, tens of thousands of people pour across Libya’s borders, fleeing conflict in the rest of the continent or trying to outrun poverty; nursing dreams of a better life in different corners of Europe.
Many get to Libya with nothing other than a little money to pay for a ride on a crowded and overloaded boat to the shores of Europe. Some make it, many don’t and many more are gobbled up by a sea with little sympathy to their ambitions.
However, a recent clampdown by the Libyan coastguard following pressure from European states such as Italy and Greece, has meant that fewer boats make it out to sea, leaving behind boatloads of hungry, poor and homeless would-be immigrants at the mercy of treacherous smugglers-turned-slave- dealers.
Unlike the five Kenyans who didn’t make it out of the market and have been sold to unknown buyers, Elizabeth Akinyi made it out and is now back home, albeit with the scars, emotional and physical, that would always remind her of the ordeals.
At 29, she left her home in Kisumu in search of greener pastures in neighbouring South Sudan. However, after the world’s youngest state collapsed into a civil war, she took up an offer from an Egyptian acquaintance she had met in Juba. The deal on the table was for Elizabeth to get to Cairo and work as a house help.
She was taken to her host family and was told not to be inquisitive.
“I got scared when I heard that several other girls had been mistreated and died, so the lady’s last born girl advised me to be submissive if I had to survive. It was the best I could do since I had no access to the outside world via any form of communication,” she said.
One day, her little understanding of Arabic enabled her to grasp the gist of a discussion between her boss and a third party.
“The clients were probably inquiring about my general health, and I heard my boss say she would feed me well for another few months so that I could fetch ‘good money’,” Elizabeth said.
The going price for a slave in the markets is anything between Sh40,000 and Sh50,000. Sometimes, reports say, those bought can provide labour for whole neighbourhoods with little or no food. When they are weak, they are moved on to another buyer at a cheaper price or left to die.
Many, like Elizabeth will remain haunted for their lifetimes. Some of those who manage to escape are forced to pay a ransom to be released. A ransom that often does not guarantee them safe passage back home.
Men are forced to leave their wives, and mothers to bury their new-born children. Rights groups say captors are more violent towards darker-skinned migrants.
Reports from International Organisation for Migration as well as several UN agencies say that pregnant women and young, energetic men fetched the best of prices in the slave markets.
The report of the five Kenyans confirms allegations of Kenyans being sold in Libya that were made made in August this year by a different group of three Kenyan girls who were rescued from the streets in Cairo after escaping from their captors in Libya.
Firthoza Ali Ahmed, Aisha Mafudh Ashur and Tawfiqa Dahir Adan had been smuggled out of Nairobi through the same route as the five men.
The three girls were highly malnourished and had gone through continuous sexual and physical abuse from the militants.
They were lucky to get out unlike many other Kenyans in ISIS who are now being auctioned the in slave trade.
In March 2017, two Kenyan fugitive doctors were killed in a US airstrike in Libya.
Farah Dagane Hassan, 26, and Hish Ahmed Ali, 25 formerly of Kitale District hospital had fled the country to join ISIS and had been treating the militants until they were killed in an offensive against the Islamic State.
Despite the global condemnation of the ongoing slave trade in Libya, it has not ended.
Many countries have sought interventions to bring to an end to the migration of Africans to Europe through Libya as thousands of immigrants die in the ocean when overloaded boats capsize on the way to Spain.