The UN Migration Agency (IOM) has expressed deep concern over the fate of some 260 Somali and Ethiopian migrants being held captive by people smugglers and criminal gangs in Libya.
The agency was responding to a video posted on Facebook showing hundreds of emaciated migrants cowering in a concrete room.
Posted by a Somali journalist based in Turkey, the film shows a confined space crammed full of migrants, a number of whom said they had been beaten and tortured by their captors. Some claimed to have had their teeth pulled out and their arms broken.
Relatives of the captive migrants have been sent videos of their treatment, accompanied by demands for ransoms of up to $10,000 (€8,948) to prevent “their child or relative” being killed, according to the IOM.
In the video, one man said he had been held against his will for over a year and was starving, explaining on camera how his captors beat him every day. Another man said he had been detained for 15 months, and was regularly beaten with iron bars. He said the people holding him had demanded $8,300 from his family in exchange for his release, a sum they could not afford to pay.
In a statement, Mohammed Abdiker, IOM Director of Operations and Emergencies, said: “Seeing a Facebook video of innocent migrants and refugees who have been abused and tortured is deeply concerning.
“IOM condemns the way that criminal gangs use social media in their shocking abuse of people held against their will and to extort money from their families back home.
“This is a global problem where a smuggler or a criminal gang can easily use digital platforms to advertise their services, entice vulnerable people on the move and then exploit them and their families.
“It is high time that social media and tech companies recognise the extreme harm that is occurring because of their failure to monitor and react to situations of grave human rights abuses – leading ultimately to murder – that are being shared through their channels.”
The IOM said migrants arriving in Libya from the Horn of Africa are regularly abducted by people smuggling gangs after entering the country from Sudan.
In April, the IOM revealed how traffickers were selling migrants from Western Africa at modern slavery markets in Libya.
The agency said migrants who had escaped the people smuggling gangs said slaves were sold into unpaid labour or sex work.
Charites and NGO’s operating in the Mediterranean have been accused of colluding with people smuggling networks.
One Libyan coastguard official last week told the UK’s Mail on Sunday that some aid agencies are paying trafficking networks to allow migrants to travel to Europe on flimsy boats launched from the country’s shores.