Modern-day Slavery in Libya, Put Simply

By Campaign Agent Michelle Blick

Forced labour, rape and torture: just some of the horrifying circumstances facing African migrants today who continue to be sold into slavery, on what they had expected to be a route to a much more promising life in Europe.

Libya has a sorry history of corruption and oppression under the regime of Gaddafi, which saw the implementation of a ‘cultural revolution’, putting in place extreme, restrictive features such as the abolition of private enterprise and regime control of the media. Simultaneously, Libya faced several atrocities towards those who dissented the regime. The 2011 Libyan Revolution which overthrew the Colonel, marked for many the start of reformation. Nevertheless, where problems experienced under Gaddafi’s regime were rectified, new problems have materialised: most alarmingly the surfacing of slave markets.

Libya has recently become a prime base for migrants fleeing devastating conditions, war and poverty in their home countries. These migrants, who are predominantly from West African countries, have been increasingly using the coast of the country as a route to Italy, via the Mediterranean Sea, following a recent EU tightening of sea crossings from Turkey. The route stretches over 600km in sometimes perilous conditions.

Earlier this year, attention was brought to the problem of migrant smuggling from Libya due to the sheer numbers ending up as ‘missing’ on the journey. The inflatable boats are often far too congested and completely unsuitable for such a journey, leading to thousands drowning. EU intervention, as a result, included the training of the Libyan Coastguard in order to minimise the traffic of boats leaving Libyan waters and improving the detention centres where migrants are taken to if caught, both of which have had limited success.

Failure to control the migrant situation, along with desperation of Libya’s colossal number of unemployed are large factors in the materialisation of this humanitarian crisis. In the open slave markets of Libya, migrants are being auctioned off for as little as the equivalent of around £300 ($400), with women holding a higher value owing to their ability to be sold into the sex trade. Whilst some migrants are sold into prostitution, others are sold as labourers; regardless of the trade they’re sold into, most are subject to poverty, squalor, brutality and even death.

It is difficult to comprehend how such a crisis could emerge and currently be happening in a so-called democratic country. This however can be attributed to the size of the country, with no less than three rival governments. There is no rule of law in many parts of Libya, especially the remote Southern region.

The Libyan government – that is, the one based in Tripoli – initially denied the situation, but have since claimed that they are investigating reports of slave markets and have promised to bring justice to their orchestrators. The UN Security Council has announced their commitment to controlling the situation and applying sanctions. These are currently in the process of implementation.

As for the general public, there has been widespread outrage ranging from Nigerian celebrities to the American and British public who have demonstrated and protested, deeply touched by the situation. With the historical reminder of slavery still present in the minds of many, the current slave trade highlights both the struggles faced in sub-Saharan Africa as well as the dire issue of racism in Libya and western nations. There is a clear necessity of a large amount of western support in many different areas, to aid the situation and prevent its replication not only in Libya but also elsewhere.

Sources and Further Reading

Image: Wikipedia

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