Libya has been at the center of the migrant crisis for the past several years. Migrants from sub-Sarahan Africa often travel to Europe by way of Libya. The United Nations estimates there are around 700,000 migrants in Libya. This week, CNN broke a devastating story about migrants being sold as slaves there. CNN acquired footage of a slave auction from this past August. A young Nigerian man is seen as the voice of an auctioneer says “big strong boys for farm work.” Human lives are being auctioned off for as little as $400. In the course of reporting this story, CNN learned that these slave auctions are being held in at least nine different locations across Libya. One of the most disturbing parts of this story is how normal these slave auctions have become. As The Guardian writes, “the trade in human beings has become so normalized that people are being traded in public.” CNN describes the slave auctions taking place where “children play in the street; people go to work, talk to friends and cook dinners for their families.” Among this normality, living and breathing “merchandise” is being sold.
How does this happen? People desperate for a chance at a better, safer life are often forced to pay smugglers to get out. All too often, this results in new devastation. Abuse runs rampant in many of these smuggling rings. As the Libyan Coast Guard has clamped down on the routes smugglers usually take to get to Europe, the smugglers have decided to sell their “cargo” instead. The CNN video shows only young men being auctioned off, all for the purposes of manual labor. That said, there is no reason to believe that women and children aren’t being sold as slaves as well. There’s also no reason to believe that there isn’t sex trafficking occurring here as well.
Some who were sold as slaves in Libya have been rescued and report horrifying tales of abuse and hard manual labor. Some of these men are understandably too traumatized to speak about what they went through. Many of those sold into slavery end up dead, according to a young man named Victory who survived and was able to escape slavery by paying a ransom. The African Union has called for an investigation into this shocking Libyan slave trade. Libya has begun a probe and has promised that all those bought as slaves will be returned home to their country of origin. As a spokesperson for Senegal’s government wrote, this modern slavery market is a “blight on the conscience of humanity” and the perpetrators must be held to account.