Desperate times lead to desperate actions, and for the innocent migrants who just want to seek greener pastures in Europe find themselves in the hands of the most callous and evil people. Slavery is taking centre-stage in Libya, where migrants are captured and forced to work for their owners in deplorable conditions and often for no reward at all.
In Libya, there is no peace for black people, especially black men. They constantly have to fear for their lives; they have to live a life in which they are subjected to perpetual fear of what is known and what is unknown. The new African slave trade is intensifying, and getting worse by each day, exacerbated by the hard-line, far-right position which Europe is taking against migrants.
In desperate attempts to part ways with debilitating poverty, people from Sub-Saharan Africa are selling themselves into slavery, believing that by doing so they are fleeing from a life of conflict, poverty, or repression to get a glistening life in Europe. However, the anti-migrant rhetoric that is gaining traction in Europe is preventing people from reaching the continent because of the European Union policies. As a result of this, migrants are enslaved and they die in their valiant but often futile attempts to escape.
Present-day Libya is now the place where tens of thousands are detained indefinitely, spending years working for arbitrary sums or without pay altogether. These slaves are at a constant risk of being sold off and auctioned from one militia to another. In this chaos, there is heavy influence of racism in spurring this modern-day slavery. It is always the black man who is targeted, it is the black man who they want.
The story of Ikuenobe documented by BuzzFeed News shows the nature of this menace. The most important question the world has not really paid attention to is that if Europe is toughening up its stance against migrants with things like "stop boats" policy - what is happening to all those who are entrapped after failing to make it to Europe?
In light of this, there is always reference to evidence released by CNN last year which showed black Africans being auctioned off as slaves in Tripoli, with black men referred to as "a digger, a big strong man." The men were sold off for $400 each. Nothing serious has been done by the UN-backed government to address this evil phenomenon.
Libya has always been the stepping-off point for migrants, and Gaddafi controlled the numbers of migrants. For him to get cash-for-migration-control deals, he always threatened to unleash the migrants into Europe and turn mainland Europe into "black Europe." In 2008, Gaddafi received $5billion from Italy as reparations, and in turn he would control the flow of migrants into Italy. Asylum seekers were being captured and returned to Libya, until the European Court of Human Rights gave a ruling saying the deal broke human rights laws. He began demanding $5 billion euros from the EU annually. However since his death, migrants routes have opened up again.
European governments have now been pouring their resources to stem the migrant flow. And in the midst of this, it is clear that coast guards and migrant-holding centres are not the solution. The promises made to people who are going to Libya in the hope of making it to Europe are alluring, often, too good to be true. The journey from countries in West Africa to Libya is gruesome - the landscape is mentally lethal. After driving in endless heat, deep in the desert, Ikuenobe revealed, "Sometimes you look at your colleagues and it’s like blood is gushing out of their eyes. Some people will just lose it psychologically." Some actually die in the desert because of dehydration.
Getting into Libya will give the migrant a shock, as they are greeted by unfettered lawlessness. There is fear, fear which is very scary. Ikuenobe was captured by men who brutally assaulted him, and called his sister to give them 600,000 naira ($1,650) for his "freedom". They wanted his mother's number but he gave them his sister's, so that his mother would not know what was actually happening. He had told his mother that he was working in a "shipyard" job and that they would soon drink to this new job.
There is widespread impunity. Extortion is so widespread that captives even have a market value depending on which country they’re from — Eritreans, who have a large, well-organized diaspora, command the highest prices, while West Africans fetch the smallest ransoms and are the most likely to be ill-treated, Libya experts say. Ikuenobe's family finally paid over 2 million naira ($5,500) before being set free. However, the person who Ikuenobe thought had come to rescue him had actually bought him.
He went to Sabha, where he was undocumented and jobless. The city was always in chaos, and he had no option than to endure the taunting he suffered. If you’re dark-skinned and from sub-Saharan Africa, … you’re at a very, very high risk of being assaulted, exploited, and detained," said Hanan Salah, a Libya researcher with Human Rights Watch."Libya is an accountability-free zone at the moment. Which police station is even going to take this complaint?"
Attempting to escape is not an easy task, as this year alone only 1 in 10 people who attempt to escape has been successful. You have already guessed right the fate of the others - they die, disappear or are returned to the Libyan coast guard.
The question now remains - what can be done to avert this kind of evil? It has affected families, killed breadwinners, and has degraded tens of thousands of people. Perhaps African leaders should simply sort their mess up in their own countries and provide better conditions for their people.
Header Image Credit: CNN