Disturbing Images of Libyan Slave Trade Conjure Memories of a Recent History

International outrage ensued after CNN exposed footage of modern-day slave auctions in Libya. Released last week, the exposé features footage of African refugees being sold for agricultural labor for $400 (it’s been reported that women are sold for slightly more, a little over $700, as they are more profitable within the forced commercial sex labor). According to the International Organization of Migration, this kind of trafficking has become normalized and, since the fall of Gaddafi, has more than doubled.

In post-Gadaffi Libya, African refugees are left in limbo. The nation serves as a crossroads for refugees and migrants coming from Ghana, Nigeria, Cameroon, Zambia, Senegal, Gambia, and Sudan, who seek safety in Europe. Many are smuggled by human traffickers who prey on vulnerable communities hoping for a better life at their destination.

Many of these refugees are murdered by their captors in the desert, while others die by starvation, thirst or in car accidents. Inside Libya, detention centers lack formal supervision. Many are filled beyond capacity, at which point they are sold in open auctions, as slaves.

What’s more shocking is that this isn’t a new.

Over 150,000 refugees travel to Europe from Libya every year. The Mediterranean crossing is considered the deadliest on earth, with over thousands of deaths. There were approximately thirty additional deaths just this past week.

These issues highlight why the world needs to be paying closer attention to a post-Gadaffi Libya. Without rule of law, human traffickers and gangs profit from the power vacuum.

What’s more shocking is that this isn’t a new. The Polaris Project estimates over 40 million victims of modern-day slavery. From the United States to Libya, and every nation in between, people are being exploited and trafficked into contemporary slavery for labor or sex. The Open Society Foundations defines human trafficking as “an egregious human rights violation involving the threat or use of force, abduction, deception, or other forms of coercion for the purpose of exploitation. This may include forced labor, sexual exploitation, slavery, and more.” 

While the scope of modern-day slavery is neither new nor a secret, it is hidden. The imagery of Black men shackled, bound and sold as slaves was supposed to remain in the history books. Recent images of slavery in Libya, however, disrupt the “out-of-sight-out-of-mind” tendency that many have adopted toward the industry and transport nations to a not-so-distant past. The United States has built its present on the notion that we have somehow moved past slavery and the strategic racial violence it continues to impose, and in turn ignores the economic and social benefits that the enslavement of Africans and Indigenous Americans provided for White Americans then and now. 

While the scope of modern-day slavery is neither new nor a secret, it is hidden. 

Modern-day slavery is widespread around the world and Libya is by no means unique. It’s happening in the developed countries of the world as well as the undeveloped countries,” Leonard Doyle from the International Organization for Migration says. “But what’s particularly shocking is that this is happening effectively in the open, where people can go to a farmhouse, place a bid and end up ‘owning’ a human being.”

While the UN Secretary General António Guterres urged the international community to unite in supporting Libya, and to adopt the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime and its protocol on human trafficking, international leaders increasingly swayed by the far-right neglect the issue as the “migrant crisis” as it continues to compound within intersecting international crisis.

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