TBZ brigade accused of migrant abuse

Dec 11, 2023 | Libyan actors

On 11 December, several international news outlets – Al Jazeera, Lighthouse Reports, the Syrian Investigative Reporting for Accountability Journalism (SIRAJ), Malta Today, Le Monde, and Der Spiegel – who have undertaken a months-long joint investigation into links between European authorities and Libyan militias pushing back migrants to Libya published their reporting on the issue.

According to the reporting, coordinates released by Europe’s border agency Frontex have ended up in the hands of the Libyan National Army’s (LNA) Tareq Bin Zayed (TBZ) Brigade, commanded by Saddam Haftar (the son of LNA commander Khalifa Haftar) allowing militiamen to pull back hundreds of people at a time fromEuropean waters to eastern Libya. The reports indicate that the TBZ pullbacks from European waters began in May, with pull backs from Libyan waters also occurring.

The investigation says that the pattern that emerged suggests that European powers are working directly and indirectly with the TBZ, amid their efforts to curb refugee arrivals. In addition, the pullbacks described by witnesses, which often involve violence, are illegal – under international law, refugees cannot be returned to unsafe countries such as Libya, where they are at risk of serious ill-treatment. Le Monde quotes the EU security spokesperson, Peter Stano, saying that ‘Haftar is not our privileged partner. He’s not an appropriate interlocutor for us.’

According to the findings of the investigation, the European institutions are aware of the TBZ’s alleged human rights abuses and its connections to Wagner Group mercenaries, but do nothing to stop the brigade acting as a coastguard partner. The investigation found that Malta appears to be playing a direct role. During one incident in August, an audio recording strongly suggests that a Maltese air force pilot relayed the coordinates of a boat in distress to the TBZ. Several refugees who have been intercepted by TBZ told the investigation that TBZ militiamen have tortured, beat, and shot at them. Others said TBZ forced them to pay ransom or made them work for their freedom.