Italian police arrested three people on Monday accused of kidnapping, torturing and trafficking people hoping to set sail from Libya to Europe.
A 27-year-old man from Guinea and two Egyptians, aged 24 and 26, were taken into custody at a detention centre in Messina in Sicily after police gathered testimony against them from other migrants.
The witnesses said the three ran a prisoners’ camp in Zawiya in Libya, where those ready to attempt the perilous Mediterranean Sea crossing were forcibly held until they could pay a ransom.
Those interviewed said they were tortured and beaten and had seen other prisoners die, police said.
Libya, despite being wracked by chaos and conflict since the 2011 uprising against dictator Muammar Gaddafi, has remained a major transit route, especially for people from sub-Saharan Africa.
According to figures from the International Organization for Migration in July, at least 5,200 people are currently trapped in official detention centres in Libya, often in appalling conditions.
No figures exist for the number of people held in illegal centres run by human traffickers, who brutally torture them to try to extort money from their families.