Libya’s Modern Day Slave Trade

CNN recently released an exclusive report detailing slave auctions occurring across Libya.  Migrants and refugees, comprised of people who have travelled to Libya with the hopes of a better future, are being auctioned off. Instead of providing them with a better future, the smugglers sold them to labourers for under one thousand U.S. dollars. After seeing footage of such an auction taking place, CNN travelled to Libya to investigate further and to verify the information. The journalists witnessed one auction outside Tripoli and were told of at least eight others across the country – and there is believed to be more.

While CNN’s report may be bringing this issue to the attention of the mainstream media, this is not a new development. Mohammed Abdiker, the International Organization for Migration’s (IOM) Director of Operation and Emergencies, called the slave market in Libya “dire” after visiting earlier this year. In April, the Independent talked to migrants in a rehabilitation centre run by Médecins Sans Frontières in Sicily. Here they heard stories from Nigerian men who had spent time in Libya on their journey to Europe. While there, they were made to do hard labour, threatened with guns if they refused to work or asked for pay. This is not an isolated incident. IOM estimated almost half of the migrants arriving in Italy had been forced into work, 90% of this taking place in Libya.

The situation demonstrates a blatant disregard for human life, and is a consequence of a general migration crisis. Although this is a problem throughout the world, Libya is facing particular difficulties. It is geographically positioned as a gateway between Africa and the Mediterranean, leading to an influx of refugees and economic migrants. As European border security and coastguards become stricter, Libya is facing a backlog of migrants unable to continue their intended journey onwards. The UN estimated there is between 700 thousand and one million migrants in Libya. This situation helps to explain the rise of the slave trade, as smugglers turn to alternative means of income as their usual work becomes more difficult.

For those not “put under the hammer”, life in Libya is not necessarily any easier. The government-run detention camps that hold migrants arbitrarily in inhumane conditions have produced frequent stories of abuse. Research conducted in the south of Italy found 89 percent of migrants arriving in boats from Libya suffered psychological issues, over half of these expected to last long-term.

Some progress is being made, with seven detentions centres closing recently. Yet more needs to be done to end the exploitation of migrants. IOM has called for replacing detention centres with open centres, and are ready to support Libyan authorities in ensuring migrants basic human rights are protected. On top of this though, there needs to be some accountability for those engaging in the slave auctions documented by CNN. Libyan officials can make a difference, but so can others around the world. IOM’s General Director, William Lacy Swing encouraged social media sites to take account of how their platforms are being abused. Smugglers use them to entice people with idealistic images of new countries, and websites like Facebook are used to send videos of abuse to family members to extort money. The Libyan slave market will not disappear on its own. Action is required to stop the abuse that is taking place.

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