People smugglers are openly selling migrants and refugees from West Africa into modern slavery in Libya, according to the International Organisation for Migration (IOM).
Survivors who manged to either escape or buy their freedom from the trafficking gangs told IOM researchers that people traded at these markets are put to work for no pay or held as sex slaves, and that many are forced to call relatives back at home to beg for ransoms to secure their release.
“The situation is dire,” said Mohammed Abdiker, IOM’s Director of Operation and Emergencies, who has recently returned from a visit to 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.”
One survivor from Senegal named only as SC described how he paid smugglers 200,000 CFA (€300) to be taken across the Sahara to southwestern Libya from Niger. After travelling through the desert for two days, the driver of the vehicle SC travelled in said he had not been paid by traffickers, and took his human cargo to a slave marketplace to sell.
SC described being sold and then moved to a private household where he was forced to work for no pay. After being moved to another home, he managed to raise funds from family members who sent him money via mobile phone, eventually allowing him to secure his release.
He described how migrants who could not raise the money required to buy their freedom were often killed or left to starve to death. Every time somebody died or was released, the kidnappers would return to “market” to buy more slaves.
“Over the past few days, I have discussed these stories with several who told me horrible stories,” an IOM Niger staffer said.
“They all confirmed the risks of being sold as slaves in squares or garages…, either by their drivers or by locals who recruit the migrants for daily jobs in town, often in construction, and later, instead of paying them, sell their victims to new buyers.
“Some migrants – mostly Nigerians, Ghanaians and Gambians – are forced to work for the kidnappers/slave traders as guards in the ransom houses or in the ‘market’ itself.”
Libya has become the main transit point for African migrants looking to make the treacherous journey across the Mediterranean to Europe.
Earlier this year, the UN said detention centres used to house illegal migrants in the country were being run by local militias, whose members were holding women and children for ransom while sexually abusing them and forcing them into prostitution.