Sub-Saharan migrants traded like merchandise in Libya

Black bodies are being traded at auctions in Libya, and the world has been slow to respond. It’s become such a part of Libyan society that people are being openly sold in marketplaces. The Daily Vox rounds up.

The Guardian published an article seven months ago about the sale of West African migrants in Libya. English actor and investigative journalist Ross Kemp wrote an opinion piece for the same publication nine months ago. He visited the country that is the gateway to Europe for thousands of migrants and asked why the world is ignoring what’s going on. Photographer Narciso Contreras, who has been talking to migrant slaves in Libya, said the world is largely ignoring the problem. “[The] vast market trading in human beings is largely undocumented,” he told Thomson Reuters Foundation.

An exclusive report by CNN on 14 November showed the world video footage of the auctions. Reporter Nima Elbagir was left speechless after she witnessed the sale of 12 Nigériens, who went for between R2 802 and R7 004 ($200 and $500). Elbagir said it was probably one of the most unbelievable things she’s ever seen. Men, who are referred to in Arabic as “merchandise” are sold to work in fields. Women, Euro News reported, are sold as sex slaves.

Elbagir visited a migration detention centre in Tripoli. Thousands of men who were rescued from the warehouses from where they’re sold, mainly come from Ghana, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, and Somalia. They told her of their experiences as slaves all while being held against their will. Victory, a young migrant at the centre told them of the beatings, mutilations, and torture these survivors experienced. He said they used to shove sharp objects into their rectums. “Most of them lost their lives there. I was there, the person who came to buy me, give them the money. Then they took me home. So, the money was not even that much,” he told them.

The Guardian reported that these migrants, mainly from sub-Saharan Africa, are fleeing conflict in their home countries and forced to work without pay or get very little food. Their captors call their homes demanding ransoms. “His captors asked for 300 000 west African francs (about £380), then sold him on to a larger jail where the demand doubled without explanation,” it said about a Senegalese migrant that managed to escape.

This is a lucrative venture for all involved and slave traders are going as far as posing as aid workers, there to help escapees and those who’ve bought their freedom, to get them back in the warehouses. The Libyan army is also playing a big role in the sale and transfer of enslaved migrants. At the auction CNN reporters witnessed, there was a man dressed in the Libyan army uniform who seemed to oversee the auction. CNN handed over footage of its investigation to Libyan authorities, who have since begun investigating.

Alpha Condé, chairperson of the African Union, addressed the slavery in Libya for the first time on Saturday. He “strongly condemned” the archaic practice and called for Libyan authorities to investigate its existence.

The frustration of Europe at the massive influx of poor migrants that don’t fit into their European standards is also an enabler of the established slave trade industry in Libya. The country is a popular port from where smugglers shipped over 100 000 migrants in 2016 into Europe, mainly through Italy. Middle East Eye, a London-based online publication, reported that the Italian government was giving aid, aircraft carriers, and money to Libyan militias to stop flow of migrants across its borders. A local resident told the publication that the calm in his town came at a price. “The calm was brought about by economic agreements made with local militias. There is no possible negotiation, except with militias,” he said. A local resident of Sabratha, a city that used to be a hub of migrant activity, said the militias only understand money. “They were a business when they wanted to leave and the traffickers organised dozens of rubber boats every day. And they are a business now when Europe needs to stop them because – you know – everything has a price.”

Italy’s alleged deal with the devils in Libya seems to have lowered the number of migrants entering the Mediterranean state. In August Reuters reported that since the deal, there was a 50% decrease in arrivals in July and even lower numbers in August.

The Italian government denies the allegations that it is funding human trafficking militias to prevent the boats from leaving Libya’s coast.

The removal of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi in 2011 with the aid of the United States and United Kingdom created a power vacuum in Libya. Six years later, Libya’s government is still at odds with itself. The lawlessness that ensued provided the opportunity for smugglers and gangs to thrive. Militias and armed gangs filled the power vacuum. Sub-Saharan migrants fleeing the violence, persecution, and economic and political instability in their own homes are being driven into a violent and exploitative situation up north. They leave in search of a better option and are sold as merchandise to the highest bidder while the world stands by and watches.

Featured image via Unsplash