Survivors of slave auctions in Libya described a “total hell” that they would not like about their “worst enemy” as global outrage spreads over images of migrants being sold in the country torn apart by the war.
“We were slaves,” said Moussa Sanogo, a migrant who returned from Côte d’Ivoire to Libya this week after surviving regular beatings and forced labor in the fields.
“For the Arabs (Libyan jailers), the black-skinned men are nothing but animals – the animals have been better treated,” said Sanogo, who spent more than four months in Libya trying to join Italy by boat.
The North African country has long been an important transit center for migrants trying to reach Europe.
He was just one of those who returned home with reports similar to those broadcast last week by the American television network CNN, which showed a slave auction where black men were shown to northern buyers -africains. 340 euros).
“It was a total hell in Libya,” said Maxime Ndong, one of 250 migrants repatriated Tuesday night in Cameroon.
“There is a black trade here, people who want slaves … come and buy them,” he told AFP.
“If you resist, they shoot at you, there have been deaths,” said Ndong, who spent eight months in Libya.
The Cameroonians returned to Yaounde Tuesday aboard an aircraft of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) as part of a project for the return and reintegration of some 850 people.
Sold by the police –
Sanogo, 22, was one of some 600 migrants from Côte d’Ivoire returning from Libya with IOM support. About 150 people landed in the capital Abidjan on Monday with the rest to take home during the week.
Sanogo described Libya as an anarchic country exploited by bandits where the police were involved in the trafficking of human beings.
“At one point we were surprised by people who said they were policemen,” he said.
“The police then sold me 500 dinars (310 euros, 365 dollars) to a man who made me work in a tomato field for a month.
Sanogo fled across the desert to Niger where he was again imprisoned before finally fleeing to Tunisia.
Then a smuggler promising a way to Europe convinced him to return to Libya.
– “Price you like the goods” –
“We were captured and locked in a small room with 60 other people,” and “could not wash,” he said.
“When the Arabs came in, they wore masks because of the smell,” he said, shaking his head at the memory.
“They buy you, you’re here, you’ve been arrested, you see that they judge your price as a commodity, they bought you and you go to work … like a slave,” he said.
“They hit you all the time – especially if you’re fat like me – until the blood flows, with sticks, metal, the butt of a rifle.
“For food, you get a piece of bread and a piece of cheese, that’s all … I’m happy to be back,” he said.
“I would not wish it to my enemy.”
– “Humiliation for Africa” -
Another migrant, Seydou Sanogo from Abidjan, said: “We should see what we experienced to believe it”.
But not everyone wanted to leave Libya. A woman with an 18-month-old baby said she did not want to return to Côte d’Ivoire.
“We were waiting for the boat, we were almost there,” said the woman, who did not give her name.
The images of the slave auctions sparked an uproar across Africa, bringing to the public consciousness a situation that has already been condemned by many non-governmental groups and observers.
The stars of music and football have expressed indignation at the revelations, including Ivorian reggae singers Alpha Blondy and Tiken Jah Fakoly, as well as footballer Didier Drogba.
“It’s a double indignation, a cry of the heart: I’m shocked to see the children of Africa die … trying to find a better tomorrow,” said A’Salfo, singer of Magic System group.
“A humiliation for Africa”.
The United Nations has declared that auctions on slavery should be investigated as crimes against humanity, and the issue will be on the agenda of the EU-AU Summit of 29-30 November in Abidjan.