HomeAir LineDamascus - Benghazi: Migrant smuggling on a chartered plane arrives in Al-Faytur

Damascus – Benghazi: Migrant smuggling on a chartered plane arrives in Al-Faytur

Cham Wings Airlines, which has been sanctioned by the European Union and investigated by Frontex, is part of a conspiracy orchestrated by an alleged drug trafficker on death row in Libya. At the same time, it is advertised as a “humanitarian” company at tourism fairs and conferences

A very serious man guarded the lone Syrian pavilion at the last edition of Fitur, Spain’s most famous international tourism fair, which was held last January in Madrid. From his private cabin, he promoted the country as a “completely safe experience”, downplaying the fact that it had been at war for 13 years. But his sullen expression turned to real anger once he was asked about Cham Wings Airlines, a private airline advertised in one of its shows that is an example of how the mafia transporting people can circumvent European controls. Because Cham Wings was investigated by Frontex and sanctioned by the European Union for its support of the regime of dictator Bashar al-Assad, which is responsible for the deaths of more than 600,000 Syrian citizens since its violent suppression of the 2011 revolution. After more than a decade of conflict, 12 million Syrians are still displaced In neighboring countries and Europe due to violence, poor economic situation and insecurity.

The European Border Agency (Frontex) has been tracking the Cham Wings Company for some time due to its involvement in a network that smuggles Syrian and Bangladeshi migrants from Damascus and Dhaka to Benghazi, eastern Libya, and then illegally brings them into the European Union. Italy, where they can reach it in just five days. “It is the most effective service recorded to date,” said an internal agency report from 2022, when Syrian nationality was the third largest crossing of the Mediterranean Sea. Frontex also expected an increase in irregular entries of Syrians into the European Union. He was right: in 2023, Syria was the majority nationality (32,881 people), a number not seen since the 2016 refugee crisis.

The United States had already imposed sanctions on Cham Wings in 2016 on charges of money laundering and supporting the Assad regime, and in 2021 by the European Council, accused of transporting migrants to Belarus, but it left in July 2022 due to the cessation of those flights. Last January 24 He came back in On the blacklist, this time for facilitating the smuggling of mercenaries, drugs and weapons between Damascus and Benghazi.

The sanctions imposed on Cham Wings consist of an asset freeze, a ban on travel to community territory in the case of natural persons, and a ban on doing business in the case of companies. But the airline was not the only one hit with sanctions. This company is part of a conglomerate that includes entities called ALDJ Group, Al Tayer Company and Freebird. Between them, they form a network that makes a fortune by facilitating the travel of Syrian migrants, desperate to live in peace, and who work under the leadership of a mysterious person named Mahmoud Abdel-Ilah Al-Dji, who is also on the list. Little is known about him, except for what he says on social media, where he presents himself as a 40-year-old “businessman and investor” who holds dual Syrian and Libyan citizenship. The few photos he shares show a handsome man, with a neatly trimmed beard, good clothes, and successful features.

A copy of the death sentence issued by the Benghazi Court of Appeal (Libya) against Mahmoud Al-Daj for his involvement in a drug smuggling crime.
A copy of the death sentence issued by the Benghazi Court of Appeal (Libya) against Mahmoud Al-Daj for his involvement in a drug smuggling crime.Submitted by Al-Arabi Al-Jadeed

But some research e.g Omran Group for Strategic Studies Or those of various media outlets telling other versions of the DJ: that of an alleged criminal pulling the strings of that network of companies created for human trafficking. one of Hashish and Captagon drug dealer (A type of amphetamine) sentenced to death in Libya for attempting to smuggle a drug shipment. The European Council itself accuses him of using his companies to organize the transportation of any goods that generate money for him, whether legal or not, from drugs to mercenaries, and resorting to chartered flights of Cham Wings for this purpose.

The DJ denies all charges, including those related to his conviction in Libya. In an email, he told El Pais that he opposes what he considers “unfair sanctions that lack the minimum foundations of objectivity and fairness.”

The destination of Al DJ’s clients is eastern Libya, an area from which clandestine departures across the Mediterranean to Italy have recently spread. It is dominated by Khalifa Haftar, the powerful warlord with whom the European Union and some European countries such as Italy or Malta want to negotiate to stop illegal immigration. An investigation by EL PAÍS and Lighthouse Reports revealed evidence of this thriving activity, the perpetrators of which operate under the protection of the Haftar family.

Two Syrians who spoke to El Pais under fictitious names for security reasons traveled on Cham Wings planes from Damascus to Benghazi. Ahmed Nasser, 25 years old, left his country after many of his friends and family members were killed. He contacted a mediator from Daraa, the city that was the cradle of the 2011 revolution and from which the majority of Syrians migrating come. He booked his tickets at Al-Tair Travel Agency, owned by the DJ. He flew on a Cham Wings plane. “The flight attendant uniforms, the logos on the headrest… everything was from Levant Wings,” Nasser recalls.

Omar Hariri, 44 years old, wanted to apply for asylum in Europe; The government has already arrested him twice and fears a third arrest. “I suffered all forms of torture. When I entered, my weight was 120 kilograms, and when I left, my weight dropped to 60 kilograms.” Hariri bought his ticket from a local currency exchange office, which in turn bought it by bird. He added: “I paid 1,550 dollars (1,440 euros).” The price of the ticket and the passport stamp in Libya.”

The story of Nasser and Hariri is repeated with Damascus Wings in various investigations into migrant trafficking. In its 2022 report, Frontex confirmed that criminal networks were using… The method of work private. The document indicated that they “exploit flights organized by well-known airlines that operate on the verge of legality.” The airline gets $1,500 (€1,400) per passenger.

Frontex indicates that Cham Wings is the company that operates these charter flights, which depart on an almost daily basis. But the company’s website does not offer tickets from Damascus to Benghazi; It doesn’t matter what date you search, you will always find “unavailable”. Information collected from social networks indicates that tickets are sold only through a specific travel agency and payment is made in cash. This information confirms the certificates obtained by Frontex.

Nasser and Hariri describe how facilitators took migrants’ passports and booked flights from Damascus to Benghazi, and also reported that after landing they did not see adequate border controls: “Libyan officials put down passports and names in a notebook and said, ‘Let’s pass.'” According to Frontex, When they arrive in Libya, refugees are assigned to other smugglers, who hide them in homes or ships.

They are then transported to the coast, where large fishing vessels sail to smuggle migrants from Libya to Italy. This was one of the most important The method of work In this corridor in 2023, with prices ranging between 3,000 and 4,000 euros per passenger, according to Frontex. One of them was AdrianaThat overcrowded ship sank last June in the Ionian Sea, leaving more than 650 dead.

Another investigation was conducted by the UN Security Council Committee of Experts on Libya At least 188 flights have been identified to Benghazi between January 2021 and March 2022, in addition to numerous evidence showing that it was also transporting Syrian fighters to and from that city. In 2021, the airline generated nearly 40 million euros, according to the commission. In 2023, Cham Wings covered this route 83 times, according to Flight Radar data.

EL PAÍS contacted Cham Wings via email. A company spokesperson claimed that the company acts as a “humanitarian air bridge” for displaced Iraqis and Syrians. “The humanitarian call of the Levant Wings has already been demonstrated before, by correcting and ignoring the entity (European Council) they mention,” he says.

There is a third entity involved in the conspiracy. its name The bird The DJ himself introduces himself as its general manager On LinkedIn. Al-Tair was not sanctioned, but she appeared in an investigation by Spanish police and other European intelligence services into another human trafficking network that she uses to “recruit, manage, and collect human traffickers, most of whom are Syrian.” Other evidence includes the flight reservations of the interviewed citizens, which are managed by the airline and whose logo is prominent. Printed phone numbers are listed on police reports.

With increasing doubts about Al-Sham Wings, it is striving to clean up its image, not only in Al-Faytur. In October, he attended the 15th World Humanitarian Aid Conference organized by the World Food Program in Istanbul, which has already been criticized in 2021 for his use of this airline: he signed a contract –With a value of about 480,000 euros– in 2020 to charter a plane to transport medical supplies “because it was the only viable option,” a company spokesperson explains. Regarding attendance at the Istanbul conference and other previous editions of the same event, the same interviewer points out that WFP has no authority to make decisions about exhibitors or scheduled speakers. This newspaper also asked to organize it, to no avail.

The DJ continues to sell himself as a clean-cut businessman. He keeps his company accounts open on social networks and offers rides even though they cannot be purchased later. The image of a successful businessman is that presented to the world by someone who is considered responsible for lining his own pockets at the expense of the suffering of his fellow citizens.

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Source: Elpais.

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