Libyan security forces have found the bodies of 16 refugees near the country’s border with Egypt, amid suspicion that they have been left behind by traffickers.
The bodies were found about 310 kilometers (190 miles) southwest of the coastal city of Tobruk on Tuesday, said Ahmed al-Mismari, the spokesman for the eastern-based division of the Libyan National Army.
He said the area was still being searched and no more details were available about the refugees’ identities.
Egyptian refugees either cross into Libya to work as laborers or use the country as a stopover to reach Europe. This has made them sitting targets for smugglers, who have in the past abandoned many in desert areas.
Libya has turned into a scene of rampant militancy since the NATO military intervention of 2011 amid an uprising that led to the ouster of longtime dictator, Muammar Gaddafi.
Back in April, the United Nations’ International Organization for Migration (IOM) raised the alarm over a climbing number of refugees passing through Libya, who were being traded in so-called slave markets before being held for ransom and subjected to malnutrition and sexual abuse.
Refugees were being held for an average of two to three months, said the head of the IOM’s Libya mission, Othman Belbeisi, at the time, adding that many of the asylum seekers were being used as day laborers in construction and agriculture.
Some were forced to work without pay before being sold again to new buyers, he added.
The organization says it has identified close to 350,000 internally displaced people in Libya.
Citing estimates provided by embassies, the IOM says the total population of refugees in Libya is about 700,000 to 1 million people, mainly coming from Egypt, Niger, Sudan, Nigeria, Bangladesh, Syria and Mali.