‘It Was As if We Weren’t Humans’- Inside the Modern Slave Trade

Libya is a country in the Maghreb region in north Africa, bordered by the Mediterranean Sea. It is the fourth largest country in Africa and sixteenth largest in the world. Libya became an independent Kingdom in 1951 and was ruled by king Idris I who was overthrown by a military coup in 1969 and the ‘bloodless’ coup leader Muammar Gaddafi ruled the country from 1969 until the 2011 Libyan civil war in which he was killed.

A brief history of slavery

Slavery can be traced back to many of the world’s oldest societies, from the “emergence of civilization” in Mesopotamia to ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome, as well as the Mayan and Aztec empires.
Male prisoners of war and seized sailors became laborers; prerogative women became concubines and domestic servants; children were used as farm hands or to help around the house.The Arab slave trade flourished on the African continent.

The corridor from Africa’s most populous country to its northern Mediterranean shores has proved especially remunerative. As conflict, climate change and lack of opportunity push increasing numbers of people across borders.

A video of men in Libya being sold off for as little as $400 at an auction shocked the world and brought the much needed attention  at the plight of migrants and refugees in the north African country.

The slave trade of Libya

Libya is the main conveyance point for refugees and migrants trying to reach Europe through sea. According to International organization for migration, almost 150,000 people have made this dangerous journey across the sea of which 3000 people could not make it through . The Libyan Coast Guard, supported with funds from the UN and Italy cracked down on  boats smuggling refugees and migrants to Europe. With estimated 1 million people stuck in Libya, the detention centres are flooded and have ascending reports of rape, robbery and murder. The conditions in concentration camps are horrendous and make refugees vulnerable to being sold off as laborers in slave auctions.

How is Libya handling the crisis?

 The U.N.backed Libyan government has launched a formal investigation into the allegations. But Libya is largely considered a failed state. Since Muammar Gaddafi, who ran the country for four decades, was ousted in 2011, the country has descended into civil war. A transitional government failed to implement rule of law in the country, which has shattered into several factions of militias, tribes, and gangs. In lawless Libya, many see the slave trade and smuggling as a lucrative industry and tackling the country’s humanitarian crisis will require international support.

Slavery may seem like a relic of history but according to the U.N.’s International Labor Organization, there are more than three times as many people in forced serfdom today. What the ILO calls “the new slavery” takes in 25 million people in debt bondage and 15 million in forced marriage. As an illegitimate industry, it is one of the world’s most remunerative, earning criminal networks $150 billion a year, just behind drug smuggling and weapons trafficking. Modern slavery is far and way more profitable now than at any point in human history.

The trade might be most noticeable in Libya, where aid organizations and journalists have documented actual slave auctions. But now it is seeping into southern Europe too—in particular Italy, where vulnerable migrants are being forced to toil unpaid in the fields picking tomatoes, olives and citrus fruits and peddled into prostitution rings.

How many slaves are there today, and who are they?

The word “slavery” summons images of shackles and transatlantic ships – depictions that seem relegated firmly to the past but more people are enslaved today than at any other time in history. Experts have calculated that roughly 13 million people were captured and sold as slaves between the 15th and 19th centuries; today, an estimated 40.3 million people are living in some form of modern slavery, according to the latest figures published by the UN’s International Labor Organization (ILO).Women and girls comprise 71% of all modern slavery victims. Children make up 25% and account for 10 million of all the slaves worldwide.

Where is this happening?

Statistically, modern slavery is most ubiquitous in Africa, followed by Asia and the Pacific, according to the Global Slavery Index, which publishes country-by-country rankings on modern slavery figures and government responses to tackle the issues.

What’s the difference between slavery and human trafficking?

Human trafficking is just one way of subjugating someone. Whereas centuries ago it was common for a slave trader to simply buy another human being and “own” that person as their property (which does still happen), today the practice is largely more insidious.

Trafficking involves the recruitment, transfer or obtaining of an individual through coercion, abduction, fraud or force to exploit them. That exploitation can range from forced labor to forced marriage or commercial sex work – and the exploiter can be anyone, including strangers, neighbors or family members. Most people are trafficked within their own countries, although they can also be trafficked abroad; most often the individual is trafficked into forced labor.

Strategy for resistance

What’s needed is to address the root causes. Poverty alone does not explain slavery. Roughly 700 million people meet the threshold of extreme poverty, the number of slaves is estimated to be 40 million. What distinguishes these 40 million from the other 700 million very poor? Slavery usually occurs when poverty is compounded by specific risk factors.These include an inability to assert basic human rights, lack of access to essential social and economic services (especially schools, health care and credit),the failure of the rule of law and, an absence of services for slavery survivors that leads to re-enslavement.

Libya is considered a failed state. After Gaddafi, the country has been in shambles due to the civil war and hence in lawless Libya,but what is really disheartening is that there are broken people with stories of barbarity and abuse, hoping to find a way out of it, waiting for help but unaware of the reality that there are too little people who care,too little ears to hear their stories and too little hands guided their way for help.