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African migrants are being sold in Libya’s ‘slave markets’ IOM says

African migrants are being sold in Libyan ‘slave markets’ after being held for ransom, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) has revealed. 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.



The United Nations – International Organization for Migration (IOM) has warned of modern-day slave markets in Libya where hundreds of African refugees and migrants passing through Libya to Europe are being bought and sold. The practice is said to be prevalent in the southern city of Sabha one of the Libya’s main route used to smuggle people to Europe through Mediterranean Sea.

According to the UN’s migration agency, migrants or refugees with skills such as painting or tiling would fetch higher prices between $200 to $500. The trading is reportedly taking place in garages and car parks, and people are detained by smugglers or militia groups who demand ransoms from their families and if a migrant can’t pay the set amount of money, they are sold to Libyan buyers. Most migrants are young men from West African nations of Naigeria, Senagal, Gambia, and Niger, trying to migrate to Europe through Libya in search of jobs or greener pastures.

“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.

File picture: Migrants from African origin rest in a room at the Interior ministry’s al-Nasr housing center for illegal immigrants on August 31, 2016 in the port city of Zawiyah, located some 45 kilometres west of the capital Tripoli.
Thousands of migrants are “racing against the clock” to make the perilous crossing from Libya to Europe before summer ends, with authorities in the conflict-torn country at a loss to stem the flow. Photo: AFP/MAHMUD TURKIA

Most of the survivors who escape the harrowing ordeal told the UN agency of shocking and destructive experiences of how their colleagues were auctioned off as cheap labourers on what is now a booming business venture in Libya operated by the smugglers and militia groups.

In the statement on the status of the migrants, and refugees situation in Libya, Belbeisi said the slave trade has been going on for some time and selling human beings as commodities is becoming a trend among the smugglers and militia groups. The smuggling network in Libya is reportedly becoming stronger, and a flourishing enterprise.


“For example, if you go to the market and you can pay between $200 and $500 to get a migrant that will work with you on your daily jobs or support your work. Many of them escape. Many of them are kept in bondage, and many of them are even imprisoned inside an area where they are forced to work on a daily basis,” Belbeisi said.

Migrants captured, raped, tortured, slaved and killed

The IOM statement said migrants are often abused, tortured, discarded especially when they are sick or are seen to have outlived their value or abilities. Women have faced extremely tragic fate, as they are bought by private Libyan clients and brought to homes where they are forced to be sex slaves.

In the report Belbeisi also said, “If a migrant is being killed, sometimes it is considered normal and many of the migrants are buried without identification. We have many families who do not know where their family members are”.

View of some of the 52 sub-Saharan migrants rescued by the navy when they were travelling on a little ship 13 miles far from Alboran’s island next to Motril, Granada, Andalusia, Spain, 18 June 2016. Photo: ANP/EPA/Miguel Paquet

“All they know is they left the country toward Libya or Europe or somewhere, but across the route and along the route, they do not know what has happened because there is no clear identification of those people, and many of them die and they are buried without any real identification,” Belbeisi added.

Read: 700 migrants feared to have drowned in Mediterranean


In Libya many of the migrants who are not skilled, are reduced to work hard labour in the construction and agriculture industries, where some are paid and others forced to work without payment. When the work is completed they get auctioned again to the new Libyan buyers.

The labourers are subjected to inhumane working conditions. There are reports that migrants survive on limited food supplies, with those unable to work getting either killed or left to starve to death.

“About women, we heard a lot about bad treatment, rape and being forced into prostitution,” Belbeisi said.

The journey of death

Libya has been a major gateway or exit point to tens of thousands of migrants from Africa trying to take boats and cross to Europe by the Mediterranean Sea. The journey is a nightmare and perilous for approximately six days, and migrants experience the harsh temperatures crossing the Sahara desert through Libya. Since the overthrow of president Muammar Gaddafi, Libya has been ungovernable characterised by sporadic violent clashes. Migrants with little cash and no papers have found it difficult to cross over Libya and have been vulnerable to smugglers and militia groups.


Read: 18 Migrants die off the coast of Italy

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.