Sold as a slave in 2017: the latest horror in store for migrants passing through Libya

‘Selling human beings has become common among traffickers’

The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) has issued a press release about the existence of ‘slave markets’ in Libya. Many sub-Saharan African migrants and refugees are being taken to these markets – usually held in town squares or car parks – to be sold.

‘Selling human beings is becoming a trend among smugglers as the smuggling networks in Libya are becoming stronger and stronger,’ said Othman Belbeisi, IOM’s Libya mission chief, in Geneva.

The IOM has said that although the practice has been occurring for a while, it has become much more widespread over the past year.  At present, it is possible to buy a human being to work as a day labourer for between €200 and €500.

The UN doesn’t have enough of a grip on the problem to provide statistics. The IOM doesn’t have exact figures either, but it does have scores of testimonies from victims, information from Libyan human rights organisations, and photographs, all of which prove that the phenomenon ‘is happening in different parts of the country’. 

The majority of the individuals sold into slavery come from sub-Saharan Africa, particularly ‘Nigeria, Senegal and Gambia’.

Most of the male slaves are bought for construction or agricultural work. The women are usually forced to be sex slaves. ‘Many of them escape. Many of them are kept in bondage, and many of them are even imprisoned inside an area where they are forced to work on a daily basis,’ Belbeisi says.

 ‘Selling human beings is becoming a trend among smugglers as the smuggling networks in Libya are becoming stronger and stronger.’

The slave markets are just the latest horror that migrants are subjected to as they make their way towards Europe. ‘The situation is dire,’ said Mohammed Abdiker, IOM’s Director of Operation and Emergencies, who recently returned from Tripoli.  ‘The more IOM engages inside Libya, the more we learn that it is a vale of tears for many migrants. Some reports are truly horrifying and the latest reports of “slave markets” for migrants can be added to a long list of outrages.’

‘Migrants who go to Libya while trying to get to Europe, have no idea of the torture archipelago that awaits them just over the border,’ said Leonard Doyle, chief IOM spokesman in Geneva. ‘There, they become commodities to be bought, sold and discarded when they have no more value.’


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