Libyan Slave Market Video Sparks Outrage And Government Responses in Europe
On 15 November, CNN released a video report from a town near Tripoli appearing to show the sale of sub-Saharan Africans to buyers to undertake labour against their will and with no pay. While the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) and other NGOs have highlighted the existence of slave markets for several years, this is the first time there has been verified video footage of such an occurrence.
On 17 November, the African Union demanded that Libya investigate these slave markets, and several individual African governments expressed their anger and concern. On 18 November, hundreds of people reportedly demonstrated outside the Libyan embassy in Paris, demanding an end to slavery and ‘concentration camps’ in Libya. On 19 November, deputy Prime Minister Ahmed Maetig announced that he is taking control of the enquiry into these allegations and that all those involved would be arrested and brought to justice. Various other Libyan ministries and organisations have also said that they will be involved in the investigations.
In a separate but related development on 15 November, Germany and Italy defended their ongoing policy of supporting the Libyan coastguard to turn back migrants making the journey from Libya to Europe across the Mediterranean, despite this leaving increasing numbers of people at the mercy of Libyan traffickers. Italy’s foreign minister insisted its support of the Libyan coastguard had saved lives while his German counterpart said that while conditions in the detention centres were unacceptable, there were no alternatives. This reiteration of support followed the release of a report by a UN team that highlighted the appalling conditions experienced by migrants being held in Libyan detention centres. They documented evidence of overcrowding, torture, rape, forced labour, starvation and physical violence.
The inhumane conditions experienced by migrants travelling through or detained in Libya have long been known and documented by various human rights organisations. However, the situation has worsened as Libya’s economic and political situation has deteriorated and as European politicians have taken increasingly hard-line approaches to migration due to domestic pressures. By supporting the Libyan coastguard to turn back migrants, even in international waters, Italy and its European allies are contributing further to the crisis as the numbers being held in detention in Libya are growing as a result. The argument that this policy is weakening smugglers also fails to stand up to scrutiny, as smugglers either receive a cut of what is paid to the coastguard, or instead look to extract income from migrants in their possession through ransoms or selling their labour. The Libyan authorities do not have the ability or capacity to deal with this crisis, and the Europeans do not have the will to do so, therefore unfortunately little is likely to change in the near future.