African people are being auctioned off in Libya like chattel. The revelation that smugglers are buying and selling Sub-Saharan migrants in open-air slave markets in the North African country is a reminder that human trafficking is a reality, and slavery is not over for Black people.
The world was introduced to graphic images and a video courtesy of CNN of African refugees sold in slave auctions like goats, reportedly for as little as $400. These migrants have come to Libya from a number of countries, including Cameroon, Ghana, Nigeria, Senegal, Sudan and Zambia, fleeing economic deprivation and war in their own countries for a better life. They pay smugglers to help them get to Libya and ultimately across the Mediterranean Sea to Europe, but they run into human traffickers and gangs who exploit them and subject them to kidnapping and forced labor, rape, beatings, torture and death. When they arrive in Libya, the refugees are jammed in detention centers, crammed warehouses without light or air described as “hell” and “worse than jail.” With its porous borders and a breakdown in security and order, Libya is the only option for Africans to make their way to the Mediterranean and Europe, as Israel has blocked African migrants from further entry and has devised plans to deport and imprison 40,000 refugees currently in the country.
It is estimated that between 700,000 and 1 million migrants are in Libya. Hundreds of thousands of people have crossed the Sahara and the Mediterranean, and thousands have died during the perilous journey. Just this year, an estimated 2,400 African migrants have died in the Mediterranean.
The images and videos of the slave auctions have sparked outrage international outrage, with celebrities speaking out on social media.
The slave trade that is going on in Libya has to STOP NOW. Speak up and speak out. We CANNOT be silent!
— Diddy (@diddy) November 29, 2017
— COMMON (@common) November 28, 2017
LIBYA!!!! LIBYA!!!!! NOW!!!!! NOW!!! HUMAN BEINGS ARE BEING SOLD, BEATEN, STOLEN FROM THEIR FAMILIES INTO SLAVERY, MURDERERED @POTUS– ACT NOW!!!!! Here’s your chance. ACT NOW!!!!! pic.twitter.com/HdRzmNsZBX
— ⭐Jill Scott⭐ (@missjillscott) November 26, 2017
So… I’m wondering if Khadafi was such a horrible dictator why wasn’t this happening when HE WAS in power? One has no choice but to conclude his absence made this possible.🤔 pic.twitter.com/IBsJCbdQJ8
— T.I. (@Tip) November 28, 2017
The outrage over modern-day Libyan slavery has been expressed on the African continent and in Europe, including a rally at the Libyan Embassy in Paris, where hundreds of protesters convened, and French police fired tear gas to disperse the crowd. In London, where an anti-slavery march is planned, a petition to the British Parliament to put pressure on Libya to stop the slavery has received hundreds of thousands of signatures. The African Union has weighed in on the crisis as well. In a statement, Moussa Faki Mahamat, Chairperson of the African Union Commission, “strongly condemns these despicable acts which are at odds with the ideals of the Founding Fathers of our Organization and relevant African and international instruments, including the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights.” Mahamat also calls for an immediate end to human trafficking, and for bringing the offenders to justice, and “urges the Libyan authorities to do everything in their power to improve the conditions of African migrants on their territory.”
In a meeting of 80 African Union and European Union heads of state in the Ivory Coast, members agreed to expedite the process of repatriating migrants suffering in as many as 42 camps throughout Libya. Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari decried the fact that “some Nigerians were being sold like goats for a few dollars in Libya,” and said they would be returned home and “rehabilitated.” French President Emmanuel Macron said slave trading is a crime against humanity and said traffickers are “deeply linked” to terrorists across Northern Africa.
“To see the pictures of these men being treated like cattle, and to hear the auctioneer describe them as, quote, ‘big strong boys for farm work,’ should shock the conscience of us all,” said U.S. Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley to the UN Security Council. “There are few greater violations of human rights and human dignity than this.” Meanwhile, President Trump’s accusations that CNN is “fake news” have caused Libyan news media to try to cast doubt on the veracity of the network’s reporting on slavery in Libya.
“The shocking images that emerged last week of African people for sale in Libya is a crime against humanity. The time for the international community to act is now,” said Rep. Karen Bass (D-CA), ranking member on the House Subcommittee on Africa, in a statement. The member of Congress introduced a resolution condemning slave auctions in Libya and calling on the international community to take action. “If Libyans cannot end slave auctions, then the international community will be required to step in immediately,” she added.
The circumstances in Libya are a consequence of that nation emerging as a failed state. In 2011, the U.S. and allied troops toppled Moammar Qaddafi. President Obama said that his “worst mistake” was intervening in Libya and “failing to plan for the day after.” Qaddafi’s overthrow left Libya unstable. Although slavery has been taking place in Libya for a number of years, and Qaddafi was an authoritarian leader, there was no slavery in Libya during his rule. Qaddafi was a supporter of pan-African unity, and Libya had one of the highest standards of living in Africa, leading the continent in the UN’s Human Development Index, a ranking of standard of living, social security, health care and other factors related to development. All of that is a fleeting memory.
Although the focus is on slavery in Libya, the practice is by no means limited to that nation. A recent report from International Labour Organization, Walk Free Foundation and IOM, the UN Migration Agency, says more than 40 million people around the world were victims of modern slavery in 2016. This includes 25 million in forced labor, and 15 million in forced marriages. Modern slaves are majority female (71 percent), and children account for one of every four enslaved people.
Modern slavery is practiced in every part of the world, but Africa has the highest rate of slavery, with 7.6 victims for every 1,000 people. According to the Global Slavery Index, an estimated 2.9 million people were enslaved in the Middle East and North Africa as of 2016. Migrant workers from sub-Saharan Africa and Asia continue to flock toward North African and Middle Eastern countries despite their xenophobic attitudes towards foreign workers because the work is steady because of the stigmatization of certain manual work considered suitable only for non-local people. Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman, Bahrain and Qatar, have been cited for the need to do more to address their “troublingly low” level of accountability in addressing the problem. Sadly, 150 years after slavery was abolished in most countries, slavery remains in Libya, across North Africa and the Middle East, and throughout the world.