For years, powerful militias and traffickers have taken advantage of the desperation of migrants fleeing war and poverty and trying to reach Europe from Libya’s shores.

Cowering in a bare corner, the 15-year-old boy begs for mercy and holds up his arms, trying to fend off the rifle pointed at his face. “Where is the money? Where is the money?” the holder of the rifle barks, over and over.

The unseen man pulls the trigger. “Click-click-click!” The magazine is empty, it seems. The man wants to scare him, and it works. The boy flinches with each click.

“Where is the money? Where is the money?” the man keeps shouting, swatting the boy on the head with the rifle muzzle. “I swear, I don’t have,” the boy cries.

The boy, Mazen Adam, a refugee in Libya from Sudan’s conflict-torn Darfur region, was kidnapped last week by unknown gunmen demanding ransom. Hours after the video depicting this scene spread on social media, the boy’s father was taken by gunmen from his home in western Libya.

Their saga is all too common in the chaotic, war-torn Mediterranean country, where powerful militias and traffickers have for years taken advantage of the desperation of migrants fleeing wars and poverty and trying to reach Europe. But the abuse is rarely caught on-camera, and the story of the boy and his father has raised concerns among regular Libyans and rights workers.

The video has underscored how abuses, torture, sexual violence and killings of migrants are rampant in Libya, where the European Union is using fragments of the broken-down state as an out-sourced policeman to block migrants from reaching its shores, trapping them there.

Libya has been in chaos since a NATO-backed uprising toppled and killed longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi in 2011. The country has split into many factions, each supported by rogue militias and foreign governments.

Without a functioning government for most of the past decade, the country became a hub for migrants, with thousands coming in every year from Arab nations or sub-Saharan Africa, aiming to cross the Mediterranean to Europe.

A lucrative trafficking business has flourished and militias, most of which are on the government payroll, are involved at every stage. They sometimes receive payments from the smugglers who arrange the migrants’ journeys. Militias often kidnap migrants and torture them to extort money from them.

Militias are part of the official state forces tasked with intercepting migrants at sea, including in the coast guard. They also run state detention centers, where abuses of migrants are common. As a result, militias — some of them led by warlords the U.N. has sanctioned for abuses — benefit from millions in funds the European Union gives to Libya to stop the migrant flow to Europe.

U.N.-commissioned investigators said last year such practices may amount to crimes against humanity. The U.N.’s refugee agency has warned that Libya “isn’t a country of asylum, nor a place of safety.”

Fleeing Sudan’s Darfur, Mohamed Adam arrived in Libya with his four children in December 2017. A few months earlier, his wife died when their house was set on fire during a bout of tribal violence in Darfur.

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