Every year, thousands of people pour across Libya’s borders. They are either refugees or poor migrants searching for better opportunities in Europe. Last month, the African Union expressed outrage after a footage of Sub-Saharan migrants being sold at slave markets in Libya was released. In the video, young men were auctioned off as farm workers and mine diggers according to their physical capabilities. Migrants were then given a price accordingly. For instance, young healthy men and pregnant women worth the most as they generate the highest return. Reports revealed that these auctions normally take place in seemingly normal towns in Libya. However, once entered into these auctions, it was as if one has travelled back in time. Victims were advertised as products and were sold to whoever offered the best price. As a result, in light of international pressure, Libya ordered an investigation into the practice.
Despite hearing terrifying stories from others, many Nigerians are still willing to lead on dangerous voyages across the harsh desert and unpredictable seas to reach Europe. Migrants being deported from Libya to Nigeria has shared their stories with their fellow citizens about the unbearable life across the borders. Victory Imasuen, a slavery victim, publicised his experience on CNN and had attracted international attention. Upon his arrival in Libya, he was sold into the slave market. He was beaten three times daily for eight consecutive months. Smugglers demanded ridiculously high ransom which was unaffordable for many poor migrants. Fortunately, with the intervention of the International Organisation for Migration, Imasuen was finally deported back to Nigeria. However, these stories had not deterred others from taking the risk. Tricia Nwaubani, a Nigerian-based journalist, suggested that the phenomenon is rooted in people’s superstitious beliefs. Long before Christianity and Islam became the two dominant religions in the country, people believed in supernatural causes. People tend to rationalise misadventures in their lives with these unseen forces. Whilst many fail to survive the tough journey, a tiny fraction of migrants successfully made it to Europe. The fortunate minorities shed hope in those intending to embark the risky journey.
In an interview, a smuggler who refused to disclose his name, but showed his face, claimed that many migrants were indeed university graduates, part of a young generation which does not see any opportunities in their home countries and therefore wish to flee for a better future. Although knowledgeable of the illegality of smuggling people across the border, he does not think it is wrong. He claimed that he had not forced anyone to take on the risks and was only doing it for money.
Modern slavery must come to an end. The Nigerian government has expended numerous efforts to bring its citizens home since early 2017. However, it seems to me that the government is not doing enough to tackle the problem at its roots. Firstly, the aforementioned smuggler publicly showed his face in an interview which suggests that law enforcement agencies are not taking proactive measures to track down smugglers. It is absurd that criminals speak of their crimes so publicly in front of the camera. Secondly, it is important to inculcate in citizens the idea that superstitious power cannot be used as an excuse for misadventure. Then, and only then, will they make prudent decisions accordingly. Some migrants turned down the offer to return and chose to stay in Libya, confident that their misadventure was just a matter of luck and that when the odds are in their favour, everything will begin to go well. Rather, people have to learn to put aside their superstitious beliefs and stop delving into the spiritual realm when something unfortunate happens.