Close Libyan Slave Markets -

Call to Close Libyan Slave Markets

“The men on the pick-up were brought to a square, or parking lot, where a kind of slave trade was happening. There were locals – he described them as Arabs – buying sub-Saharan migrants.” Livia Manante, IOM officer.1

Since 2015, hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants have crossed the Mediterranean into Europe from Africa and the Middle East. Known as the ‘Gateway to Europe’, Libya has seen many people pass through its borders as part of their journey. Unfortunately, traffickers are exploiting the complete lack of governance in the country and migrant and refugees’ desperation. Slave markets are flourishing around the country.

Traffickers offering to take refugees and migrants to the coast are instead selling them to the highest bidder. Migrants and refugees faced with the loss of their savings and huge debts are often unable to buy their way out.

“They took people and put them in the street, under a sign that said ‘for sale’” Shamsuddin Jibril, migrant from Cameroon.2

On the market, men and women are sold for between $200 and $500 each.3 Once bought, they are held for ransom in mass prisons and detention centers, or used as forced labor or sexual exploitation. Conditions are extreme, with hundreds crammed into filthy rooms, with little space, food or access to water. Often, they will be resold and moved between prisons as their slave masters demand more and more in ransom.

Those that escape have spoken of the methods used by the slave masters to extract ransoms from relatives, including beating and torturing their captives, often while on the phone to their families.

 “People were tied up like goats, beaten with broom handles and pipes every blessed day, to get the money,” Isoomah, survivor from Liberia.4

Those that do escape are often severely malnourished and bearing the wounds of torture. Almost 100% of women reported to have been sexually abused.5 Many aren’t so fortunate – death and murder are a reality for those who can’t pay. The IOM have reported the findings of mass graves in the deserts of Libya.6

The escalation of chaos and violence in Libya since the overthrow of dictator Muammar Gaddafi in 2011 has encouraged the spread of crime and exploitation. With no stable government to uphold the law, there is no protection for the hundreds of thousands of migrants, many without legal papers or funds, travelling through its lands.

Besides efforts to try and save lives at sea, nothing is being done to bring an end to the horrors of Libyan slave markets, and stop those rescued off the Libyan coast from being returned to detention centres where they risk enslavement.

We must call for immediate action and demand the international community take notice of this atrocity.

Case Study One: The Survivor

Yusuf and his friend Abdullah travelled to Libya from Nigeria – they paid half their fares up front and agreed to work on arrival to make up the rest. But upon completing the journey, the driver kept their money and sold them to a slave master. Accused of not paying, Yusuf and Abdullah were led away, “as we entered the building, we heard the lock turning,” Yusuf said. “Then they said , ‘you should call your family fast and ask for money.’” Following extensive torture, Abdullah died of a heart attack. Yusuf risked an escape attempt after being ordered to take his friend’s body to the hospital, scared he too would die. Although now free, Yusuf has to live with what happens and is trying to etch out a survival in Agadez, Niger.7


Case Study Two: The Slave Trader

Abahi* uses his Hilux to drive people to Sabha, in south west Libya, where they will be sold in the slave markets. The 27 migrants he transports in his van are a mix of cargo and passengers – those who haven’t fully paid their fare tragically unaware of their fate. The militia ruling the markets in Sabha pay Abahi 400 euros for each passenger who has not paid their fare. Abahi admits to worrying about the migrants’ fate, but claims, “it’s no good. But what can we do? Inside Libya, everything is ruled by the militias.”8

*Name changed to protect privacy


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67 Comments on "Close Libyan Slave Markets"

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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!

Palma Cady
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.

Keith Rycroft

Inhuman, No Human Being can or should own another.

Emmanuel Ilao

The United Nations Should act on this problem as soon as possible. This practice do not just violate human dignity. It is an immoral exploitation of peoples poverty and have no place for modern and humane society.

Krishankant Vishwakarma
Krishankant Vishwakarma

It should be ban on these things cause slavery not only harm the humanity but lose decrease the love or faith between us.

SoK Reaksmey

Modern day slavery is a gross violation of human rights and a serious offence to dignity that all people from all social classes and castes, colours, races, nationalities and religions, without discrimination and regardless of whether rich or poor, must join hands in eliminating all types of Tip/modern day slavery, rescue and assist victims to secure justice and legal remedy,; and effectively bring traffickers to justice, without impunity.

Laura Schiavoncini

Italian government has a huge responsibility in supporting Haftar’s faction and allowing him to control people crossing the sea. Stop the criminal agreement between Italy and Libya!


Sign our pledge demanding the closure of Libyan slave markets

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Refugees and migrants travelling through Libya are being exploited by traffickers. They are sold on slave markets to be used for forced labor or sexual exploitation while their families are extorted for ransom.

Thousands of migrants and refugees travel through Libya each year. It is imperative that more is done to protect them from the risk of slavery and bring their traffickers to justice.

I call for immediate action to be taken by the international community to combat this atrocity.

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