The slave trade is alive and well... within Africa.
In what’s being called a modern day slave trade, recent reports from survivors of the trade have revealed that slave markets and prisons for laborers forced to work for free are still alive and well in Libya. An UN agency has confirmed the reports, and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) has heard similar stories from survivors that escaped the trade.
“The latest reports of ‘slave markets’ for migrants can be added to a long list of outrages [in Libya]. The situation is dire. The more IOM engages inside Libya, the more we learn that it is a vale of tears for all too many migrants,” said Mohammed Abdiker, IOM’s head of operation and emergencies.
What occurs is akin to human trafficking, but strongly resembles slave trades of olden times, something that many people believed was left in the past. Migrants from West Africa, who are vulnerable and willing to pay and do anything in order to find safety, first travel to Libya because they can secure a boat ride from there to get to Europe. Instead, the migrants, especially those with limited funds and no papers, get caught up with the wrong people and wind up being sold or imprisoned.
One survivor, a 34-year-old from Senegal, recalled how he paid to board a bus that promised to get him to Libya, where he would meet a boat. After everyone had boarded the bus, the driver suddenly informed the passengers that the middlemen that secured their spots had not paid the driver, meaning all of the passengers would now be up for sale. It didn’t matter that all of the passengers had paid their way; they were sold no matter what.
“The men on the pick-up were brought to a square, or parking lot, where a kind of slave trade was happening. There were locals – he described them as Arabs – buying sub-Saharan migrants,” said Livia Manante, an IOM officer based in Niger.
Several other survivors confirmed this story and said that they had been at similar slave trade markets, while others were thrown immediately into privately-owned prisons that called their family members regularly to demand a ransom. Anyone who stayed at the facility too long without the ransom being paid would be killed if they hadn’t already died of disease or starvation.
Some became victims after trusting people that claimed they were part of an organization that helps migrants with their travels, which is an easy way to trap the refugees.
This outbreak of violence has reportedly stemmed from the overthrow of autocratic leader Muammar Gaddafi. As the conditions in Libya worsen, more and more migrants are wanting to instead return to their countries, which means they have turned to legitimate agencies like the IOM to help them.
“There are now more migrants coming back from Libya, so that’s also why all these stories are coming to the surface. And conditions are worsening in Libya so I think we can also expect more in the coming months,” said Giuseppe Loprete, the chief of mission at IOM Niger, who has arranged for the repatriation of 1,500 people just this year.
IOM and activists are attempting to warn migrants of the dangers they will face if they attempt to flee their country, a fate which is likely much worse than the one they are running from. IOM spokesman Leonard Doyle said that the best voices to inform the public are those that are returning after experiencing the horrors in Libya, though they are often exhausted after being physically and emotionally beat down. The only hope for those wishing to head for Libya is that they never go through with their trip.