“Big strong boys for farm work!”; it’s enigmatic how in our so called modern society auctioneers are being quoted describing men to be sold to the highest bidder. It’s the year 2020, and we still have the subject of slavery or “modern slavery” to address. Men and women being treated like cattle in the 21st century is not only atrocious but begs the question if humans have even evolved?
Even with slavery being officially banned, modern forms of it still exist in our society. The lingering slavery crisis in Libya and other African countries have come to light in the recent years. In November 2017, CNN agents went under undercover in one of the many Libyan detention camps for African migrants and aired a footage of migrants being sold off at a slave auction for as little as $400 (Approx. Rs. 30,000). The report by CNN gave a glimpse of the appalling conditions the migrants were kept in.
With the death of the dictator Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, the lawless Libya slide into chaos and soon became a breeding ground for crime and exploitation, because of which traffickers and smugglers have flourished. The slave trade and human trafficking is considered as a lucrative industry in the 21st century Libya. The reason Libya, a failed North African state has become a hotspot for slave auctions and human trafficking is due to the fact that it is the main transit point for refuges and migrants who illegally try to reach Europe in search of better opportunities and work. Some of the victims flee from war and oppression while others flee due to the economic dysfunction in their own countries.
Libya has now become the face of the new “Middle Passage” to Europe. Illegal migrants and refugees are vulnerable to exploitation all over the world. Few of the victims pay cash upfront for their journey to Europe and are sold either way, others are deliberately tricked by smugglers as they are told that they can pay off their debt for their journey by working in Libya, but once they reach there, the victims realize that they have been sold off as cargo and are now a part of the slave trade industry. The migrants usually cannot speak the local language, have nowhere to claim rights and hence, are stuck working for below minimum wages in abysmal conditions. In an interview with Iabarot, a victim of slave trade from Nigeria stated that many migrants were branded on their face for punishment and a mark of identification. He further states, that the men were sold off for manual labour and the women became part of prostitution rings in countries all over Europe.
Bani Walid, described as Libya’s ghost town has become the centre to hold most of these refugees, where they are allowed to bathe once a week, five people at a time, are given two plain meals a day and two chances to drink water. The victims who are unable to pay the ransom are severely beaten with electrical wires and sometimes are even soaked with gasoline and set on fire as a form of punishment. Several interviewed victims state death does not come easy for the refugees and migrants, because they are a source of income for the traders. Hence, the migrants go through immense amount of torture and pain enough to break them but not kill them, so as to deem useless for the traders.
According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM) an estimated of 650,000 men and women who have crossed the Sahara over the past five years dreaming of a better life in Europe, are now a part of slave trade in Libya. In 2020 more than half a million African migrants are currently trapped in Libya, ready to be exploited by corrupt officials and inhumane traders. Even though slavery may seem like just a part of history, U. N’s International Labour Organization (ILO) state that there are more than three times as many people in slavery today as there were during the 350-year span of the transatlantic slave trade. Though they call it modern human trade, it is still slavery since human beings are reduced to possessions with a fixed value based on the amount of income they can generate for their owners.
The release of the CNN footage in 2017, caused immediate and global outrage. The U.N. demanded swift and immediate action for these crimes against humanity. But it’s been over three years and little has been done to ensure the protection of these vulnerable migrants and refugees. Victims of slave trade still continue risking their lives to find job opportunities in Europe, they avoid going through Libya again but still consider leaving by different routes since they still don’t have means to sustain themselves and their families by staying in their poverty-stricken countries. Research shows that it is almost impossible for under-privileged young Africans to go to Europe, even though there is a clear demand for their labour. Opening up more venues for legal migration seems essential at this point, to eradicate the use of illegal means to enter Europe. The trafficking of vulnerable Africans will continue to exist till no legal alternative is found for them to travel to Europe for better opportunities. The reason slavery and human trafficking still exists comes down to the basics of racism. As Soumahoro, a union representative in Italy, bluntly puts it: “Humans are being sold and trafficked because the embassies of Europe won’t give visas to Africans.”