Decay of Libyan state clears desert trail for Africans to Europe

According to the Italian coast guard, at least 50,000 people have crossed from North Africa to Italy by boat so far this year, already far exceeding the 40,000 who arrived in the whole of 2013. Most came over land from Sub-Saharan Africa, via Libya.

Abdulkabir and five of his friends, all from Niger, walked for hours over rocky hills and sandy paths to cross into southern Libya, without meeting a single border guard. Safely over the border, they now feel no need to hide.

Libya’s southwestern tip in the Sahara bordering Algeria and Niger has become an open door for illegal migrants from sub-Saharan countries heading for Europe, with the chaotic government in Tripoli appearing to have abandoned all control.

The revolt that overthrew Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi three years ago emptied Libya’s arsenals, flooded the region with guns and dismantled much of the state apparatus, giving well-organised smuggler networks the run of the frontier.

“We crossed by foot. There was no army or police,” said Abdulkabir, waiting with his friends for a smuggler to bring them to Ghat, the first town in Libya. They camped near an unpaved road that leads straight to the nearby Libyan passport control post, but no patrol disturbed them.


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