A town in Libya seems perfectly ordinary. People work, children play, life goes on. But beneath the coat of normality, there are atrocities. In 2017, human beings are still being sold as slaves.
A young man named Victory told CNN that he was sold at a slave auction. Four months and all of his money was spent in an attempt to reach Europe after fleeing Nigeria’s Edo State. He made it as far as Libya, where he was detained. There, he and others like him were abused, starved and kept in gruesome living conditions.
If you look at most of the people here, if you check their bodies, you see the marks. They are beaten, mutilated, he said.
Victory was sold as a day laborer after his funds ran out. He was told that the profit made would lessen his debt, but he was later informed that the money he had been bought for was not enough. Then he was returned to his smugglers and sold several more times. Eventually, he was released, but only after the smugglers demanded ransom from his family.
Each year, tens of thousands of people like Victory flood into Libya. They are refugees fleeing their countries or economic migrants seeking opportunity in Europe. The International Organization for Migrants estimated that there are about 700,000 to one million migrants in Libya and over 2,000 have died at sea this year. A clampdown recently conducted by the Libyan coastguard limits the amount of boats coming out to sea. Smugglers are left with batches of passengers who are not permitted to cross.
Smugglers turn into masters. Migrants and refugees turn into slaves.
The U.N. Migration Agency said that migrants are traded for between $200 and $500 and are held for around two or three months, on average. Detention centers are run by smugglers on the Libyan coastline. The United Nations reported the horrors of these camps and said that they are places of sexual abuse, forced labor and torture.
Yet, the practice of slavery in Libya has been largely ignored by the rest of the world. Narciso Contreras, a Pulitzer Prize winning photographer, spoke to the migrants who were kept as slaves as part of a documentary photo project in Libya.
The humanitarian crisis of migrants trying to reach Europe is well-documented and it is a story the Libyan authorities want to be told. But that vast market in trading human beings is largely undocumented. It’s a human rights violation that needs to be addressed by the international community.
CNN filmed evidence of the slave trade and recent public attention to this issue brought hundreds of protestors outside of the Libyan Embassy in Paris on Saturday. The people chanting “free our borders!” were stopped with the use of tear gas from French police officers.
Libyan authorities promised to launch an investigation in response to the CNN videos.