It is estimated hundreds of sub-Saharan Africans travelling to Libya in the hopes of getting on a boat across the Mediterranean to a better life in Europe are being sold by smugglers each week – either into lives of manual or sex slavery or ransomed to their families, passed between militia groups.
The UN is trying to decide if crimes against humanity charges can be brought against perpetrators. Protests erupted in Paris and several other cities and the Libyan government – only in control of around half the country – has promised an investigation.
“It is now clear that slavery is an outrageous reality in Libya. The auctions are reminiscent of one of the darkest chapters in human history, when millions of Africans were uprooted, enslaved, trafficked and auctioned to the highest bidder,” a statement from a group of UN human rights experts said.
Many Libyan activists and non-governmental organisations have been trying to raise the alarm about the worsening situation in Libya for months.
The UN’s International Organisation for Migration (IOM) released a report in April this year warning that sub-Saharan Africans who travelled north to Libya were routinely facing detention in squalid conditions, rapes, beatings and being sold into slavery.
“The humanitarian crisis of migrants trying to reach Europe is well documented, and it is a story the Libyan authorities want to be told,” said photographer Narciso Contreras, who was one of the first foreigners to capture the extent of the modern day Libyan slave market.
“But that vast market trading in human beings is largely undocumented,” he added.
That has changed with the release of the latest footage. How to best address the problem is not clear.
But perversely, at this point, the people who know the least about the perils that await migrants from Nigeria, Chad, Sudan and Niger when they finally arrive in Libya are the migrants themselves.
Several activists on the ground in Libya who The Independentspoke to said that slavery, ransoms and detentions of African migrants are not new. And yet, more and more people arrive every day, determined to believe that a better life awaits them elsewhere.
“I’ve never met an African in Libya who knew what could happen to him during his journey to Libya,” Misrata-based journalist Mohamed Lagha told The Independent.“But I have met many migrants who told me that they paid to get out of prisons or detention centres, and that militias forced them to work for free.”
Some of those who do hear what could await them in Libya refuse to believe the stories, as reports found on the migrant trail through West and North Africa recently.