Swedish families extorted for money after Libya kidnappings

2:08 min

Some families in Sweden have been extorted for money after their relatives are kidnapped in Libya. 

People who are fleeing their homes are being kidnapped or sold by human smugglers to criminal organizations who demand that their relatives pay ransoms. 

Often, these refugees are made to withstand threats, abuse and torture.

Last year, Sharif's cousin fled from Somalia. He went through Libya, where he was kidnapped by an armed group who demanded 5,000 US dollars from his family in Örebro.

"It was he, himself, who rang on the kidnappers' telephone. He said that there were 24 people who had been kidnapped, and that everyone had paid except for him. 'Please, can you help me get out of here,' " Sharif recounts what his cousin said.

A Swedish Radio News reporter asks if the family was able to gather together the money, and Sharif answers in the affirmative. The family paid.

A few years ago, it became known that refugees were being kidnapped and tortured in Sinai, but now, it appears that similar crimes are being carried out in Libya.

Swedish Radio News has been in contact with six Eritrean and Somali families in Sweden who say they have paid ransoms in order to get their relatives released in Libya.

They say that there are probably many cases, however, that are going under the radar, since families rarely want to admit that they paid. Even with Sharif, that's not his real name.

Since the fall of the Gaddafi - regime, it's been more common for refugees from African countries to go through Libya in order to get to Europe.

Ahmed, who doesn't want to give his last name, is 17, and came to Sweden from Somalia via Libya. When he was kidnapped, he was caned daily.

"They whipped with sticks this long," he says. He describes a room where people were tortured, and an instrument that was used to squeeze the captive's testicles, so that he really would make the phone call and fix the ransom money.

Both Ahmed, and Sharif's cousin were freed, but many died in captivity, says Ahmed, and for women, it's particularly bad.

Ahmed says that they're being tortured, hit and raped. Sometimes you see when they're being raped, but you can't do anything, he says.