An Eritrean believed to be one of North African’s most notorious human traffickers has been sentenced to 18 years in an Ethiopian jail after he was found guilty of extorting thousands of refugees and migrants in Libya.
Tewelde Goitom, also known as Welid, was found guilty of five charges of trafficking individuals to various parts of Europe. At a hearing in Addis Ababa on June 14, he was also ordered to pay a 200,000 birr fine.
Between 2014 and 2018 in Libya, Tewelde made false promises to take migrants to Europe via the Mediterranean Sea. In reality, his armed henchmen held stricken Eritrean, Ethiopian, Somali and Sudanese migrants in harsh conditions.
Anticipating a better life in Europe, numerous migrants have been trapped and persecuted by criminals wanting to make money through dehumanizing, sexually abusing, and even killing them, reports said.
Tewelde was arrested in Ethiopia in March 2020, one month after one of his co-conspirators Kidane Zekarias Habtemariam, was also arrested. They are both originally from Eritrea.
The court was told that Tewelde held thousands of migrants captive and demanded ransoms from their families, threatening to torch them if money wasn’t forthcoming. The longer it took to hand over money, the more the migrants were abused and beaten. Some said their friends were killed or died from medical neglect.
One of Tewelde’s accomplices, Shishay Gondefay, another Eritrean who went on trial with him, was also sentenced at the same hearing to 16 years and six months in prison, and ordered to pay 50,000 birrs. Lawyers for both defendants said they will appeal against the verdict. Such a move needs to take place within 60 days of sentencing.