After obtaining footage of an auction, CNN’s Nima Elbagir and her crew went to Libya in October to investigate further. During this investigation, CNN witnessed a dozen men being sold at an auction outside of the Libyan capital of Tripoli. Some of them were auctioned off for as little as $400. Ultimately, CNN was told of auctions taking place at nine locations throughout Libya, but many more are believed to take place each month.
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The footage led to a protest in Paris outside the Libyan embassy. During the march a placard reading “No to slavery in Libya”. Tens of thousands fleeing conflict or searching for economic opportunity cross into Libya each year, looking to be smuggled across the Mediterranean Sea.
The United Nations estimates there are 700,000 migrants in Libya, and for years those who have crossed the Mediterranean have shared stories about beatings, kidnapping and enslavement.
“It’s not about color,” the woman at the protest said. “This goes beyond color or religion. This is about humanity.”
“We have to mobilize. We can’t let this kind of thing happen,” one protester told France 24 at the rally Saturday. “Did we really need to see such shocking pictures before taking a stand? I don’t think so.”
“How can it be that in the 21st century, we’re selling human beings like merchandise?” one woman at the Paris protest said. “I cannot get my head around that!”
“Priorities of the investigation are not only to convict those responsible for these inhumane acts, but also to identify the location of those who have been sold in order to bring them to safety and return them to their countries of origin,” Anes Alazabi, an official with the agency, told CNN.
The information is not however new. Earlier this year the International Organization for Migration (IOM) revealed African migrants are being sold in Libyan ‘slave markets’ after being held for ransom. The migrants trying to reach Europe tell harrowing stories, experiences of forced and hard labour, malnutrition and sexual abuse. Some migrants have been captured and killed by smugglers and militia groups, who conduct the slave trade.
“Apparently they don’t have money and their families cannot pay the ransom, so they are being sold to get at least a minimum benefit from that,” said Head of the IOM’s Libya mission, Othman Belbeisi, to reporters in Geneva.
The UN says more than 150,000 people have made the journey in the past three years, and a number of fatalities have been recorded in 2016. More than 5,000 people died, or were presumed dead, while an unknown number perish during their journey north through the Sahara desert.
Slavery in 21st century Africa
The expose is not the first that CNN has done. In 2012 they did an investigative story that showed that an estimated 10% to 20% of the population lives in slavery despite abolishing slavery on 1981 as the last country in the world to banish the practice. In fact, slavery although abolished in the country was only made illegal in 2007. Although this move criminalized the act of owning another person by the time the story was done only one case has been successfully prosecuted.
The reality of it is that slavery still exists and is currently happening at the various crossing zones perpetuated by the current migrant or refugee crisis that is driving victims to those areas.
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