The Libyan Slave Trade Continues

Updated: Oct 18, 2021

It all starts with a disaster that affects their village or city, caused oftenly by militant groups that ravage vulnerable and small African villages. These extremist African militant groups find it easy to take over these small African villages, mostly due to the fact that they do not have the strength or force to fight back. African citizens live in constant fear of militant groups, like Boko Haram, and many others when it comes to protecting their safety. This is where the journey to Europe begins. As resources dwindle and instability increases, many Africans flee their home country in hopes of getting out of their dangerous living situation, so they travel North in order to start a better life. When they reach the border though, many immigrants are detained by African militias and sent to jails and detention centers, where they await their brutal future.

Every year, hundreds of Libyan men, women, and children are sold into slave markets in multiple Libyan cities. People who try to flee Africa for Europe are often stuck in Libya, which is one of the north most countries in Africa as well as being a popular migration location, where they are forced into slave markets and auctioned off like objects. Many Africans who embark on this dangerous journey to Europe travel in hopes for a better and more opportunistic life, but this vision is abruptly stopped for most migrants when they are trapped at the northern border of Africa, where Europe is just on the other side of the Medditeranean. They soon find themselves spending massive amounts of time trying to survive in the underbelly of modern-day slavery.

In fact, trafficking migrants to Europe from northern Africa has become more lucrative than drug trafficking.

Migrants are mainly carried by “smugglers,” who ignore the condition and stability of the African migrants while transporting them across the Mediterranean and other international waters. First Lieutenant Naser Hazam of the Libyan government’s Anti-Illegal Immigration Agency in Tripoli told CNN that “(the smuggler) does not care as long as he gets the money.” Once detained, they will be shipped back to major key cities in Libya, such as Tripoli, Sabha, and Ghadames, as shown in a graphic provided by CNN, below.

If caught on the Mediteranian, African immigrants are pushed into an overcrowded boat, where they are boarded into prisons and detention centers. Several of the current and former inhabitants of these government-run detention centers and prisons describe horrific accounts of exploitation, forced labor, and inhumane conditions, caused by the unsophisticated and undescrete hands of the smugglers they paid to transport them across the sea. These government-run detention centers are often not equipped with the proper materials to provide for the hundreds of captured migrants, such as pillows, clothes, and blankets.

Most Africans who are detained are sold off quickly at auctions to buyers for prices as low as $400. Many of the auctions that take place are held in seemingly normal and calm towns, but as auctioneers step into the slave auctions, it’s like they are stepping back in time, and the only thing that seems to be missing is the shackles around the detainees wrists and ankles.

It doesn’t take long for these captured migrants to be auctioned off to high bidders. Private buyers from all parts of the world, including the Middle East and some parts of Europe, come and bid on the men and women who are being sold off. In a video obtained by CNN, viewers can actually see what it’s like to be involved in one of these auctions. The auctioneer referred to the captured migrants as “big strong boys for farm work,” and within minutes, the young men submit to their newly created fates.

As this trend continues, European leaders and activists urge North African leaders to not let any violence and threats make their way to European countries. In the past, at the request of the European Union, former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi prevented migrants from crossing from Libya to Italy. This enforcement system and its restrictions disappeared after he was killed in the 2011 Libyan Revolution. Libya then became the main route to Europe while Italy was marked as the main point of entry for refugees, shown by the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR). In 2017, the U.N. Security Council (UNSC) released a statement saying that they “condemned such actions as heinous abuses of human rights and possible crimes against humanity,” and “called for those responsible to be held to account.” They went on to say that the UNSC urged the Libyan authorities and all other parties involved to comply with obligations under the international law and further stressed the need to transfer all detainees to State authority. The council also “encouraged cooperation between the European Union, the African Union and the United Nations to protect the lives of migrants and refugees along migration routes,” inside Libya in particular.

As of now, there are no major steps being taken in order to eradicate this process once and for all, as there is conflict between the Libyan and city governments and other ruling powers. Although there is no action being taken by higher authorities, activists have created many petitions to sign and share with others, and many sources that will keep you up-to-date on this issue. Websites such as the UNHRC and the UNSC will help to keep viewers updated on any immediate steps that they are planning to take in the future. Although there are no immediate plans for the future, several different parts of the U.N. along with neighboring European countries are looking for ways to dissipate these auctions and traveling paths, and find safer and more durable ways to migrate. As more time passes, this issue seems to be only getting worse and more violent; this horrifying problem will only begin to grow more, but with more publicity and assistance from people and organizations from all over the world, a much safer future could be made for African citizens..

Through Teen Lenses: What do you know about the current slave trades going on across Libya, and what’s your thought on how it’s being dealt with?

“I am not 100% sure but I believe in Libya there are migrant men and women being sold. Many of these men and women have escaped to seek refuge from poverty, but instead are being faced with extortion and cruelty. I recognize the UN’s attempt to get involved earlier however their efforts have failed. Also I believe that the world is not paying enough attention to the matter, it needs a lot more media coverage and overall focus from the world. It is sickening to think that in this day and age people are ignoring such an abhorrent issue.” Lizzy Jack, 16, Rising Junior at Thomas S. Wootton High School, Rockville, MD
“I do not think that this crisis is being dealt with very well. It is important to consider the factors that are at the basis of this crisis. When Europeans conquered African nations and turned them into their colonies, they created a certain instability in their economies and governments. Upon leaving abruptly once the African nations demanded independence instead of facilitating a peaceful and gradual transition of power, they left their countries with questionable economies. These growing nations were very vulnerable to economic collapse and governmental corruption. Countries in Africa such as Nigeria have massive wealth inequalities as a result of decades of instability. It is no surprise that millions of Africans are undertaking such dangerous journeys for any opportunity of a better life. However, European nations like Italy restricting immigration directly increase the amount of immigrants stuck in Libyan militias and camps. Although the slave trade is occurring in Libya, European forces also need to be held accountable for the buildup of refugees waiting to arrive on European shores, or dying trying to get there.” Sam Rahbin, 17, Rising Senior at Walt Whitman High School, Bethesda, MD
“Since Libya is like the main transportation location for a lot of refugees trying to reach Europe, there’s a lot of migration traffic in that specific part of Africa. The Libyan government tried to combat the bombardment of people trying to migrate to Europe with the Libyan Coast Guard which was supported by the EU but now there are a lot of people stuck in Libya’s detention centers which have very poor living conditions. and I may be wrong but I think there are high levels of crime especially rape and human trafficking in those centers. attempting migrants are there being sold off as slaves in auctions. I think as a result of the Libyan government’s already failing government, they are largely unable to implement any serious government action there, even though the UN is helping them do so. “ Shreya Singh, 16, Rising Junior at Thomas S. Wootton High School, Rockville, MD