On October 19, 2021, human trafficker Kidane Zekarias Habtemariam was placed on Holland’s ‘most wanted’ list.
The Eritrean man, who is notorious for his cruelty towards refugees trying to reach Europe, escaped prison in February this year, after one year in an Ethiopian prison. His getaway came as no surprise to many of his victims, who were upset by the notable lack of international attention in his case.
In October 2020, I travelled to Ethiopia with a Journalists for Transparency grant and spent a month covering the trials of both Habtemariam and his friend and fellow human trafficker Tewelde Goitom, who is widely known as “Welid”. I attended the hearings with Ethiopian journalists who assisted with translation: we were always the only observers not involved directly in the trial, while I was always the only attendee who was not Ethiopian or Eritrean.
Both Habtemariam and Goitom are accused of transporting thousands of refugees to Libya, where victims were held captive for months or years in remote warehouses and tortured or abused until their families raised thousands of dollars in ransom money. At that point, some victims were allowed to try to cross the Mediterranean Sea to Europe, while others were simply thrown out of the warehouses or dumped at the coast or in Libyan capital city Tripoli.
Earlier this year, Habtemariam was convicted to life in prison in absentia, while Goitom got 18 years (he remains incarcerated).
Below is a list of some of the reporting that resulted from that initial Journalists for Transparency grant.
And here is a link to a story I wrote prior to the arrests, which describes more of the background:
‘Inside the smuggler’s warehouse: Africa’s 21st-century slave trade’, the Irish Times
Habtemariam remains at large, and Dutch authorities are encouraging anyone with information on his whereabouts to contact them confidentially in Dutch, English or Tigrinya. The details are on their website.