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Refugees and Migrants Forced into Slavery

It becomes more apparent every day that slavery is not confined to humanity’s past. This time, the news comes from West African migrants who have survived modern-day slave markets in Libya to tell their stories to a UN agency, The International Organization for Migration (IOM).

Though there have been previous reports of violence and slave labor against migrants travelling to Libya, the survivors’ latest stories confirm that slavery has become commonplace to a point that it is practiced openly.

Othman Belbeisi, head of the IOM’s Libya mission, said in Geneva that, “Migrants are being sold in the market as a commodity,” and that the refugees are being bought for anywhere between $200 and $500 USD.

The refugees and migrants come from countries like Senegal, Nigeria, and The Gambia, and head towards Libya’s Mediterranean coast, some in hopes of reaching Italy. Along the way, however, they are confronted by many human traffickers and other armed groups who extort them for money and labor.

Another IOM officer, Livia Manante, heard stories of men who “were brought to a square, or parking lot, where a king of slave trade was happening. There were locals – he described them as Arabs – buying sub-Saharan migrants.”

Manente also spoke to the truth of these testimonies, stating that many migrants confirm the stories.

Additionally, he claimed that IOM Italy has also heard many similar recounts from migrants collected in southern Italy.

The women in these situations often suffer additional cruelties. Belbeisi said that, “About women, we [hear] a lot about bad treatment, rape and being forced into prostitution.”

Many migrants are unaware of these dangers as they begin their journey to a better life. The IOM has been working to spread these testimonies to social media outlets and radio stations. Sadly, many refugees might still feel that the risks are worth the potential outcome – a lifetime of safety in Italy. Safety is something most of these refugees and migrants haven’t ever taken for granted, risking their own lives for its mere pursuit.

Belbeisi, speaking of possible interventions from the Libyan government, said that, “Talking to the Libyan authorities, there is the political will to stop that. And we were informed that there will be concrete steps. But let us also acknowledge that the challenging political and security situation in the country will make this difficult to happen, maybe, in the near future. But there is commitment, as we heard from the government, to stop such practices.”

For now, not all of these migrants and refugees will live to tell their tales. The increasing instability brought about by Gaddafi’s downfall makes the traffickers’ job even easier.

If the families of these migrants and refugees are unable to send them ransom money, or if they cause trouble in the camps in which they’re forced to work, many are killed and buried without identification. Their families in their home countries left merely to hope, as the migrants hoped upon their departure, that everything might be better than it seems.

Featured Image by Magharebia on Flickr
Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

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