Source: RTL News

Jesse van Amerongen

Apr 6, 2023 10:26 amModified April 6, 2023 10:26 AM

Today the trial against the notorious human smuggler Amanuel W. continues. The Public Prosecution Service (OM) suspects him of horrific crimes in Libya, but also extortion of refugees in the Netherlands. It is a special case, because it is the first time that an Eritrean human smuggler has been prosecuted in the Netherlands.

Torture, sexual violence, starvation: the most horrific practices surfaced when the UN Security Council investigated human trafficking in Eritrea and Libya. More than 3000 kilometers from Libya, one of the alleged leaders of the human smuggling organization is facing court today in Zwolle.

Amanuel W., also known as Tewelde G., Welid or Walid, is guilty of human smuggling, hostage-taking, extortion and (sexual) violence, according to the Dutch OM. He is said to have been the head of a refugee camp in Libya, which researchers say is better described as a ‘makeshift prison’. An important accomplice was 39-year-old Eritrean Kidane, who is currently detained in Dubai. The Netherlands has requested his extradition and will charge him.

Dutch extorted

There is hardly any food, medical aid or sanitary facilities in the camps, and torture and ill-treatment also occur systematically, according to the UN investigation. People regularly die from hunger or violence. Upon arrival, people are forced to call family, only after paying thousands of euros are they allowed to travel further. Initially in trucks that are so packed that the people in them die of suffocation.

The camps were in Libya, why is a Dutch judge looking into this case? Walid and Kidane are not before the International Criminal Court in The Hague, but before an ‘ordinary’ Dutch court in Zwolle. According to the Public Prosecution Service, there is a clear link with the Netherlands, because several Dutch people have been extorted by this organization.


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Eritreans are relatively easily granted asylum in the Netherlands because of the human rights situation in Eritrea. But once in the Netherlands, they can be approached by people smugglers and forced to pay for relatives in these camps. The payments then go through Dutch intermediaries. Five of these intermediaries will also have to appear in court.

Daily sadism

An Eritrean refugee, who is not mentioned by name for security reasons, paints a similar picture to RTL Nieuws about his time in Walid’s camp. According to his own estimate, he was in a camp with 1600 people without proper sanitary facilities and a maximum of one meal a day.

The only door was guarded by a man who sometimes just shot into the air with his rifle. “There was violence every day,” he says. “I also saw two people die from lack of food.”

‘Sadism’ is one of the words that comes up regularly when researcher Mirjam van Reisen talks about the Libyan camps she has been researching for years. She and her co-researchers assume that more than 200,000 people have been in the camps in five years, but she says that that is probably an underestimate. For their investigation, they spoke to more than 400 witnesses, revealing many shocking details.

A crying man from Mali in a safe house in Bani Walid (Libya).


For example, a notorious story about an organized football match came back to several witnesses. Walid and Kidane each chose some of the weakest refugees and let them play soccer against each other on a field. If players did something wrong, they were shot from the sidelines by the men. At the end, the winning team’s human smuggler was allowed to choose a woman to rape.

‘Absurd scenarios’

“Really absurd scenarios,” says Van Reisen about the stories that have come out. Another example she cites is that people were given drugs, only to be chained up and forced to imitate sheep. All this while receiving electric shocks.

According to the researcher, the atrocities are a crucial part of the organization that has people smuggling as a revenue model. “Because of that torture, people in the Netherlands, among others, are willing to pay much larger amounts for family members.” In her research, it was therefore striking that sadism increased enormously at times when it became more difficult to smuggle people. Costs go up, so revenues must also go up.


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Van Reisen hopes that the case against the two alleged ringleaders can send a signal that this is seen as unacceptable in Europe. The ultimate result is that the revenue model comes under pressure, because that seems to be the only thing that people smugglers are really sensitive to. “In the end it’s just about slavery, because people are under complete control and exploited. I hope that as a European society we can draw a line.”

The Eritrean refugee who has been in Walid’s camp says he is happy that the Netherlands dares to bring this man to justice. “He’s lucky to be here,” he says. “He has the right to be heard when so many of my compatriots have been imprisoned without trial. He is lucky.”

Response of Amanuel W.’s attprmeu

Amanuel W.’s lawyer indicates to RTL Nieuws that he does not want to respond to the case yet, partly because they do not yet have the complete file. At an earlier hearing, the lawyers indicated that their client claims not to be Walid and to have never used violence himself. The lawyers also doubt whether a Dutch court is competent to rule in this case.