Malaika Jabali
Nov, 30, 2017

A CNN expose revealing video footage of men being sold at a slave auction in Libya has begun to capture the world’s attention.

Here’s what you need to know about the modern slavery crisis confronting the North African country.

Modern slavery has been a problem long before the video footage was released.

Reports of African migrants and refugees, particularly women and children, being abused and forced into labor and prostitution in Libya made rounds in mainstream media as early as February. However, reports estimate that 89 million people have been forced into some form of modern slavery over the past 5 years.

Women and girls are disproportionately affected. They account for 99 percent of the victims of the commercial sex trade and nearly 60 percent of all other sectors that use forced labor.

The current slavery crisis in Libya stems from the smuggling of migrants — many who seek refuge and opportunities in Europe — who have paid guides to lead them from their home countries. However, at transit points along the journey, smugglers have abducted migrants or held them at ransom for thousands of dollars until the migrants’ families pay to complete the journey. Consequently, many people never reach their destination and are either rounded up in detention centers by government authorities or forced into labor or prostitution by human traffickers.

Its geography and political instability has made Libya a hotspot for forced labor, trafficking, and abuse.

Because of its location on the Mediterranean coast, Tripoli, Libya’s capital, has become a hotspot for migration and human trafficking. While awaiting deportation to their home countries at government detention centers, migrants become vulnerable to looming smugglers and human traffickers.

Instability in Libya — brought by America and other western countries toppling Libya’s Prime Minister, Muammar Gaddafi, in 2011 — has made it more difficult to regulate and control this abuse, making the country “virtually lawless.”

Where are refugees and migrants being forced to work and why are they being victimized?

More than half (while some estimate up to 90 percent) of reported victims of slavery and human trafficking around the globe are forced into private sector work in industries ranging from chocolate farms owned by multinational companies to construction and mining. An estimated 5 million people become victims of prostitution and forced marriages, and some have even been murdered for their organs.

Enslaving and subjugating desperate workers and vulnerable women and children provides businesses with cheap or no cost labor, provides wealthier families with cheap domestic labor, and provides an income to traders and traffickers with little to no government regulation. Essentially, the market for slavery will continue to exist as long as a profit motive exists.

Why are people migrating to begin with?

The political and economic crises facing many west African countries — like Nigeria, where the stark drop in oil prices have left many residents desperate for work — has spawned a spike in migration. In addition to migrants from Sudan and Zambia, reports show that most of those fleeing to Europe through Libya are from the west African countries of Ghana, Nigeria, Cameroon, Senegal, and Gambia.

The historical context cannot be lost here. The same European countries that destabilized the economies of African nations and stole their resources through colonization and the trans-Atlantic slave trade are those guarding their borders through tough immigration laws. This has helped facilitate the deadly and dangerous illegitimate migration of west Africans today.

While raising awareness of this global crisis and punishing smugglers are important measures, creating policies that can help west African countries secure economic stability and limiting Western military occupation of these countries are even more valuable.

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