Many Nigerians trying to sneak into Europe through Libya are facing untold hardships in their journeys.
A Nigerian migrant is worth N145,000 ($400) in one of Libya’s thriving slave markets that takes advantage of Africans trying to flee to Europe.
According to an investigation by US television network, CNN, a lot of desperate migrants from sub-Saharan Africa trying to get into Europe through the Mediterranean are exploited by smugglers when they make a required stop in the North Africa nation.
In a video obtained by CNN, three men were auctioned off to a buyer as “big strong boys for farm work” and were sold for $400 apiece.
The men, one of them identified as a Nigerian, are victims of a growing industry of slave markets operating in several locations in Libya.
How the modern slave trade works in Libya
Libya has been a hotbed for illegal migrants for years now as it serves as the transit hub to the Mediterranean which connects to Europe. Every year, migrants embark on the perilous journey across the sea to escape the economic and/or political uncertainties in their countries of origin.
According to Missing Migrants, an organization that tracks deaths along migratory routes, at least 2,985 people have died trying to cross the Mediterranean from North Africa or the Middle East in 2017 alone.
However, this has not stopped people from trying to make the journey into Europe to seek greener pastures.
A government crackdown on trafficking has resulted in a drastic reduction in boat journeys which means many are trapped in Libya for a long time waiting for their turn to travel. The migrants are mostly held in connecting houses or detention centres that the smugglers control.
This creates a situation where smugglers are able to exploit the migrants, especially as soon as they run out of money to pay which means they’re viewed as properties.
Since most smuggling rings are run by local organised gangs, militias and corrupt security officials in Libya, many victims are trapped in unfamiliar surroundings with captors who are not shy to resort to violent means.
Smugglers are known to blackmail migrants into doing free labour or outrightly selling them to other militias involved in human trafficking. Other times, they hold migrants for ransom and call their families to pay while issuing threats to kill them.
Female migrants are in more danger of being used as sex slaves especially if they don’t have anything to pay their captors.
Migrants treated like animals in Libya
21-year-old Victory, a Nigerian migrant from Edo State, told CNN about how he was repeatedly sold by his smugglers to engage in forced labour for his buyers who brutalised him alongside many others.
According to him, he was also held for ransom, while his mother in Nigeria “went to a couple villages, borrowing money” to save his life.
Before he ended up in a migrant detention centre, Victory revealed that he had spent more than N1 million trying to cross the sea into Europe.
He told CNN, “I was sold on my way coming here. As I was sold they demanded a ransom. The pusher man that pushed me from Nigeria, I gave him money but he did not pay. So they said since he did not pay that money, they now sold me.
“From a week, they’ll start beating you so that your money will come quickly so I was there for eight months before I could pay my money and I went out.
“If you look at most of the people here, if you check their bodies, you’ll see the marks. They’re beaten with electric cables. Even your butthole they shoot up a sharp object. Most of them lost their lives there.
“Going back home now, I’m totally frustrated. I don’t know where to start from because I spent my life savings leaving the country (Nigeria).”
Other migrants such as Ivorien, Moussa Sanogo, said the Libyan captors who were Arabs viewed black-skinned migrants as “nothing but animals” and treated them as such.
He said “They are buying you. You’re there, you have been arrested, you see they are judging your price like merchandise. They bought you and you’re going to work… like a slave. I would not wish it on my enemy.”
Cameroonian migrant, Maxime Ndong, said that migrants who resisted the oppression of their Libyan captors were sometimes shot to death.
According to the CNN investigation, there are usually one to two auctions every month in at least nine known locations across Libya with many more unknown.
UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, described the slave auction footage as “the most egregious abuses of human rights and may amount to crimes against humanity.”
It has also been condemned by Libyan Deputy Prime Minister Ahmed Metig, Guinean President and African Union (AU) Chairman, Alpha Conde, Nigerien President Mahamadou Issoufou, and the Senegalese government.
Burkina Faso also recalled its ambassador to Libya with President Roch Marc Christian Kabore demanding information from the Libyan government about the fate of some 30 Burkinabe migrants detained in the camps.
President Muhammadu Buhari‘s Senior Special Assistant on Foreign Affairs and Diaspora, Abike Dabiri-Erewa condemned the slave auction in a press statement on Monday, November 20, 2017.
She described it as “totally unacceptable, despicable, and inhumane and should be condemned by anyone who is human and has blood running through their veins.”
Although unrelated to the slave auction tape, while speaking at an international conference on “Women Empowerment and the Fight Against Trafficking in Persons: Partnership Between Nigeria and Italy”, on Tuesday, November 21, Speaker, House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara, charged the international community to employ effective tactics to combat the scourge of human trafficking.
He said “The Mediterranean has today become the world’s biggest cemetery leaving deep wounds on humanity’s conscience that will over a period of time produce historical scars to serve as a testimony to the ineptitude of our generation in dealing with this problem.”
26 Nigerians dead at sea
Dogara’s tough words came in the wake of the 26 Nigerian girls and women who were allegedly sexually abused and murdered while trying to cross the Mediterranean into Europe earlier in November.
The victims were buried in Salerno, Italy on Friday, November 17, after autopsies revealed there was no recent trace of physical or sexual violence. Most of the dead victims are teenagers aged 14 to 18 and two of them were pregnant.
Spanish warship, Cantabria, docked at the southern port of Salerno on Sunday, November 5, carrying 375 survivors and the dead women kept in a refrigerated section of the warship.
The bodies of the victims were recovered from two separate shipwrecks, 23 from one and three from the other, after rescue operations by Cantabria which works as part of the European Union‘s Sophia anti-trafficking operation.
Italian security authorities have already arrested two men in connection with the deaths.
The two men, named as Al Mabrouc Wisam Harar, from Libya, and Egyptian Mohamed Ali Al Bouzid, have been charged by investigators after they were identified by survivors as the captains of one of the boats where the victims died.