The International Organization for Migration (IOM) has recently warned about the increasing phenomenon of human trafficking in Libya. The more worrying aspect of this cruel trade is that it has acquired an air of normalcy and has materialized into slave markets where people are bought and sold in public.
The victims are, for the most part, West Africans from Nigeria, Senegal, Gambia or Ghana who make their way to Libya, the major exit point for African migrants trying to reach Europe. Their captors are the smugglers whom the migrants rely upon to cross the Mediterranean on makeshift boats.
Survivors have provided testimonies about the smugglers, who hold migrants hostage and sell them in the market for prices averaging between $200 and $500. After the transaction, they are imprisoned in makeshift jails by their buyers and constrained to perform forced labour, without pay and extremely limited food supplies. The raptors are also known to call the victim’s families and demand a ransom, which, if not granted is likely to result in the killing of the prisoner.
Since the overthrowing of Gaddafi, the nation has been beset by war as rival factions have made claims of authority and three of them have declared to be the representatives of the Libyan people. In this context of anarchy, the migrants are extremely vulnerable. Mohammed Abdiker, Head of Operations at the IOM, declared that the situation of the migrants is to be added to an already “long list of outrages in Libya.”
While migrants are aware of the danger involved in their quest to reach Europe, most imagine the crossing of the Mediterranean to be the most perilous part and, therefore, depart to Libya with a naive optimism. What few of them know, however, is the risk associated with simply entering Libya.
The news of such trafficking renders the refugee crisis to be more dire and increases the level of danger and cruelty migrants are exposed to. Putting an end to the issue of human trafficking does not seem like a very plausible solution to the current chaos present in Libya, but an alternative can be found in palliating to the lack of awareness of migrants from West Africa who decide to cross the Libyan border. The IOM has started spreading the stories of survivors on social media and local radios to alert the public about the abuses in the hope that incoming West African migrants will hear their words of caution.