Call to Investigate and Close Libyan Slave Markets

Call to end slavery in Libya

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Modern slavery in Libya

The world was shocked when news of slave markets in Libya broke four years ago, but since then cases of modern slavery, slave trade, and slave auctions in Libya have evolved considerably. And they are all linked back to migrant detention centers and the money and power fueling their existence.

Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the United Nations have all documented major human rights violations and clear cases of modern slavery in these facilities.

So who’s throwing these vulnerable people behind bars?

The Libyan Coastguard — supported generously by funding from the European Union.1,2

Libya’s coastguard and Europe’s complicity

In a bid to prevent refugees and migrants from reaching the shores of Europe, the Libyan Coastguard has increased its interception of boats in the Mediterranean Sea, returning those on board to Libya and locking them up in migrant detention centers.3

And as the devastating, deadly airstrike on the Tajoura migrant detention center shows, these facilities are now targets in the country’s ongoing conflict and have no place for refugees to live.

We know racism within Libya is contributing to the problem as well; black and dark-skinned refugees and migrants from Sub-Saharan Africa are the majority of those trafficked and subjected to forced labor. The United Nations even reported that “a commonly used word to refer to black people in Libya is ‘abidat’, which translates to “slaves.”4

Take it from Leyla, a Somali refugee.

“We barely ate and there wasn’t enough water. So many people were sick with TB, and some died in my arms. I was beaten up and we were tortured – with electricity,” she said.5

She and her husband fled Islamist al-Shabab militants in Somalia in 2016 but ended up in the hands of human traffickers in Libya. When they managed to escape their traffickers, the couple boarded an inflatable boat, hoping to cross the Mediterranean.

But when their boat ran out of fuel it was the Libyan Coastguard that forcibly took them to Tripoli, locking them up in the Triq al-Sikka Detention Center. Running out of hope that they would be freed, her husband set himself on fire, burning to death.

How you can help

A petition has been prepared, we must break this cycle of exploitation.

And that starts with putting pressure on the EU. Telling the EU to put human lives before inhume immigration policies that are sending refugees and migrants back into danger in Libya.

Your signature tells the EU that it can no longer be complicit in allowing modern slavery to persist in Libya. Act now and sign the petition.

  • May 2023: “We have been killed, we have been raped, we have been tortured, we have been extorted, and we have been put to forced labor,” says David Yambio, Libya survivor and advocate. Listen to his testament here.


  • December 2022: Human Rights Watch and Border Forensics have released in a multimedia research feature with a clear conclusion: the E.U.’s border agency, Frontex, is using aerial surveillance to facilitate returns to Libya, where people on the move face systematic abuse, often amounting to modern slavery.  By alerting the Libyan Coast Guard to the location of migrant boats, Frontex is complicit in the abuse people suffer on return to Libya. Read more.

  • November 2022: Despite hundreds of activists taking to the streets around Europe and flooding social media, Italy’s far-right government failed to take action against modern slavery in Libya. The Italy-Libya Memorandum was renewed, but we won’t stop fighting for justice and freedom for every person who faces forced labor, torture, extortion and abuse in Libya.

  • October, 2022: Hundreds of you in the Freedom United community have taken to Twitter to call on the Ambassador of Italy to Libya and the Ministry of the Interior to cancel the Italy-Libya Memorandum of Understanding. From Barcelona to Berlin, activists in at least 15 European cities also protested on October 15. Read more.

  • Jun 19, 2017: Campaign Launches

Chip in and help end modern slavery once and for all.


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6 years ago

I charge every American news outlet to be in American faces with this story! We are bombarded with slavery from the past that we can do nothing about, how about slavery happening now? I wonder if they have the courage to tell these victims stories!

Keith Rycroft
Keith Rycroft
6 years ago

Inhuman, No Human Being can or should own another.

7 years ago
Reply to  KAREN E. H.

I love our country but the U.S. was actively engaged in the slave trade while setting up the country and continues to engage in it to this day. It is now called the Prison Industrial Complex where an inordinately high number of black people (both men and women) are jailed for the most trivial of reasons or sometimes, no reason at all, and required to work for less than $1/ hr., sometimes as low as $0.16 (16 cents)/hr. Some of America’s most prominent corporations purchase this labor to keep their expenses down and their profits up. Thought you should know.

Siv-Ingvild Thirud
Siv-Ingvild Thirud
7 years ago

I agree this is so terrible. And it is a Direct result of the NATO bombing the country and removing Gadaffi. I Wonder if they are proud now, all those who said “something must be done”? But inthis situation now, what can be done? Who can do anything?

Palma Cady
Palma Cady
6 years ago
Reply to  Eve
It is being reported. ALL of it is important, both the ongoing repercussions of slavery at the foundation of U.S.A. and any slavery anywhere. Its not an either/or circumstance. All slavery, past and present, must be faced, stopped and amends must be made by those who profited from it at any stage.

Investigate Slavery in Libya


Help us reach 100,000

To UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres:

Along with you, we are also horrified at CNN’s footage of African migrants being bought and sold as property in slave markets in Libya. For some time now, credible reports have emerged from Libya of vulnerable migrants being exploited. As illustrated in the footage, they are sold in slave markets to be used for forced labor or sexual exploitation or their families are extorted for ransom. While thousands of migrants and refugees travel through Libya each year, the Libyan authorities have stated that this problem is outside of their national capacity.

We are therefore calling on you and the United Nations to formally investigate these slave markets in Libya to stop this egregious practice, protect migrants and refugees from the risk of slavery in Libya and bring their traffickers to justice.

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