The enslavement of migrants in Libya, as exposed recently by CNN, is so sickening that it’s hard for me to fully articulate the depth of disgust, horror and anger that I feel about this issue. From a human perspective, slavery is fundamentally wrong and should be offensive to us all, but it further pains me to see so many Africans involved given the history of slavery, colonialism and other inhuman treatment which Africans have faced over time already. Of course, though, it isn’t just Africans, there are also Syrians and people from the Middle East caught up in this. All of it is so, so wrong.
There are also a number of other videos floating about online which have been created by people who have been enslaved in Libya (which is the gateway country to the Mediterranean Sea, and thus, to European continent), and it’s shocking and nauseating to hear what migrants are, and have been, going through. There are people who have been bought and sold multiple times, who have been tortured, brutally beaten, raped, mutilated and more. They have seen people – adults and children – die. Joy and I didn’t have time in this segment to go into the details of some of the other atrocities that have been taking place in Libya, including the harvesting of people’s organs. (Yes, you read that right).
Appallingly, the EU and UN have both known about this for quite some time and have done little to nothing to help. Italy, which has taken in a large number of migrants (said to be around 111,552 this year in addition to 2639 deaths; 159,467 last year in addition to 3615 deaths), has been facing much internal anti-immigrant backlash and has taken steps to stop the migrants from reaching the country. The steps taken have included empowering the Libyan ‘coastguard’ to deal with the migrants. However, they have done this despite their awareness of the slavery and trafficking in Libya, and with the understanding that stopping people from getting to Europe means sending people to exploited and brutality in Libya. There is some talk that the ‘coastguard’ itself facilitates the selling of migrants to criminals and militia.
While I understand the difficulties of taking in hundreds of thousands of people from other countries (you have to factor in where these people will live, what kinds of jobs they would be able to get, who would support them once they reach Italy or other countries like Greece, which we know has had its own major economic crisis in recent years, etc), I find it hard to stomach the idea that politicians and authorities figures are ok with people being sold as slaves in a country which they know has been in a state of lawlessness since Gadaffi was killed in 2011.
It’s sad that it takes a media expose and social media campaigns for the relevant bodies to decide to do something about this issue. Organizations such as the International Organization for Migration (ironically, a UN body) has been talking about this for over a year: in December 2016, for example, the IOM published a document assessing the risks faced by migrants on the Mediterranean route stating that “…the study identifies the high risk that [Nigerians] run from human traffickers. It interviewed Nigerians fooled into travelling to Libya and then sold on arrival into modern slavery. It also identified a host of other risks associated with human smuggling and trafficking in Libya.” Human Rights Watch has also put out studies about the risks involved. This issue has been documented and known about. Let’s hope that they take significant action now the spotlight is on them and the world is talking.
Many people are being repatriated from Libya, which is a good thing. More has to be done to warn people about what awaits them if they decide to try and make the journey to Europe. But we also have to look at the African leaders and the African Union who have allowed this to continue. Africans leaders must do better and must focus on growing Africa so that people aren’t willing to risk life and limb in this way for a European dream which doesn’t exist. If conditions at home weren’t so bad, people would not be doing this.
I’m deeply grateful (as we should all be) to journalists like CNN’s Nima Elbagir and her team who put themselves in grave danger in order to bring attention to these kinds of appalling events, and for our ability to use social media to spread the word fast, far, wide. Without that combination of factors (CNN, brave journalists and social media/the internet), who knows how long this will have continued. Although we live in a time in which distrust of the mainstream media is high, the reality is that without some of these organizations, there is much that would remain hidden and unexposed. This is the good work that journalists can do.