Libya’s UN-backed government says it is investigating allegations that hundreds of African refugees and migrants passing through Libya are being bought and sold in modern-day slave markets.
According to reports, the trade works by preying on the tens of thousands of vulnerable people who risk everything to get to Libya’s coast and then across the Mediterranean into Europe – a route that’s been described as the deadliest route on earth.
Libya is the main gateway for people attempting to reach Europe by sea, with more than 150,000 people making the crossing in each of the past three years.
“They [the refugees] are from several African countries and they say they have fled war, poverty and unemployment in their countries.
“They have taken a tough journey through the desert and they have paid people smugglers to get to Libya to try to cross the Mediterranean to Europe.
“With the security and financial collapse in Libya, human trafficking and smuggling have become a booming trade,” says Mahmoud Abdelwahed, reporting from a detention centre in the Libyan capital Tripoli.
Modern-day slavery is widespread around the world and Libya is by no means unique… But what’s particularly shocking is that this is happening effectively in the open, where people can go to a farmhouse, place a bid and end up ‘owning’ a human being.
There is no proper registration process for the tens of thousands of refugees arriving in Libya.
According to reports, the business of detention centres is unsupervised in some parts of Libya and stories of torture, rape and forced labour have emerged.
When the centres get too crowded, people are then allegedly sold off like goods in an open market.
Survivors have told the UN’s migration agency that they use smartphones to connect with people smugglers to get them to Libya’s coast, and that they were then sold, being held for ransom, used as forced labour or for sexual exploitation.