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Slavery in Libya ignored

ANGER: News of African migrants being sold as slaves prompted demonstrations in Paris and London

THE WORLD has woken up to the reality of modern day slavery in Libya over the past few weeks thanks to a CNN exposé which showed African migrants being sold for as little as $400 in slave markets.

But experts say reports of slavery emanating out of Libya from rights groups and NGOs have for years been falling on deaf ears.
During its investigation, CNN witnessed a dozen men being sold at an auction near the Libyan capital Tripoli. Some of them were auctioned off for as little as $400. Ultimately, CNN was told of auctions taking place at nine locations throughout Libya, but many more are believed to take place each month.

Following the broadcast of the CNN report, international condemnation was swift. The chairperson of the African Union Alpha Conde said he was “outraged”; the UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres was “horrified” and French President Emmanuel Macron called the slave auctions “a crime against humanity”.

However, analysts of the region claim that the issue is one that Western governments have known about and ignored for several years. They say that the atrocities revealed by the recent footage are the direct result of military intervention to topple Colonel Gaddafi, creating a lawless society which now has three governments – one in the East, one in the West and one backed by the UN – none of which are able to govern.


It is against this backdrop that slave markets could thrive. There is also a view that the determination of EU countries to control migration to Europe has added to the problem. In April, the International Organisation for Migration produced evidence of slavery in Libya and the existence of markets where migrants were commodities to be bought. A few months later president of Médecins Sans Frontières, Joanne Liu, wrote an open letter to European governments about the thriving kid- napping, torture and extortion business in Libya. “In their efforts to stem the influx, are European governments ready to pay the price for rape, torture and slavery? We can’t say we didn’t know about this,” she wrote.

Jakub Sobik, Communications Manager at Anti Slavery International, told The Voice: “It’s been happening for the last few years. The major uproar we see now is down to CNN actually getting the footage of the auctions. We’ve known about it for some time. That’s the thing with situations like this – it’s only when it becomes part of mainstream debate that some kind of pressure can be exerted.”

Joey Ayoub, an editor at Global Voices, said: “The EU has pushed to tighten its borders, but it has not provided alternative safe and legal paths for migrants and refugees. This has inevitably led to more dangerous conditions for people already in transit countries such as Libya. Slavery has unfortunately been a direct consequence.”

Tens of thousands fleeing conflict or searching for economic opportunity cross into Libya each year, looking to be smuggled across the Mediterranean Sea. The United Nations estimates there are 700,000 mi- grants in Libya, and for years those who have crossed the Mediterranean have shared stories about beatings, kidnapping and enslavement. Libyan authorities have launched a formal investigation into the auctions, overseen by the government’s Anti-Illegal Immigration Agency.

DESPERATION: Tens of thousands fleeing conflict or searching for economic opportunity cross into Libya each year

Anes Alazabi, an official with the agency, told CNN: “Priorities of the investigation are not only to convict those responsible for these inhumane acts, but also to identify the location of those who have been sold in order to bring them to safety and return them to their countries of origin.”

The slavery issue was high on the agenda of this week’s meeting be- tween the African Union and the European Union AU-EU meeting in Abidjan, and it has been decided that the UN-AU-EU will form a task force to fight against slavery in Libya.
Knox Chitiyo, an Africa expert at policy think tank Chatham House, agreed pointing to what he saw as a collective policy failure.
“Libya, we as Africans and Western governments must take collective responsibility on this issue” he told The Voice. “It’s not just the West’s fault. Yes, it had been pointed out by the African Union in 2011 when Gaddafi was overthrown that if he was removed violently, chaos was likely to follow. But what we’re now seeing is also a failure of governance in Africa and the Arab world.”

Speaking about ways to tackle the issue, Chitiyo said: “There’s no one simple solution but part of it has to come from within Africa in the form of more inclusive governance and economy. In the Arab world the status of immigrants needs to be improved. The Libyan question has been left behind as the world focuses on big ticket issues such as Brexit.”


This Saturday a protest will take place in London outside the Libyan Embassy as the international community gathers to combat the selling of African migrants in Libya as well as their illegal detention concentration camps and the extrajudicial killing of African children.

This follows protests which have taken place across Europe, including Sweden, Paris and Brussels, and after the UN announced an ongoing investigation into the African migrants being sold into slavery. Among those attending the London march is Shezal Laing, founder of Slavery Remembrance.

She told The Voice that if black people in Britain don’t speak out against what’s taking place in Libya, then similar things might start to hap- pen to our community.

“Anti-blackness is played out throughout the world at different levels. If there’s no public outcry, if we don’t stand up for ourselves and our families when these things are happening, we can find things will get worse for us.

“The reason that black people are in the position that we’re in is because we don’t come together properly.

“Demonstrations are always great for raising awareness and putting pressure on. How much the governments will do remains to be seen but it’s always good to raise awareness.”

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