Sale of Migrants as Slaves in Libya Causes Outrage in Africa and Paris
CAIRO — A CNN report about the sale of African migrants as slaves in the North African nation of Libya has incited outrage in recent days, prompting a protest in central Paris, condemnation by the African Union and an official investigation.
Hundreds of protesters, mostly young black people, demonstrated in front of the Libyan Embassy in central Paris on Saturday — with some carrying a sign that said, “Put an end to the slavery and concentration camps in Libya,” and chanting, “Free our brothers!” — three days after CNN aired footage of migrants being auctioned off in the Libyan capital, Tripoli.
“We have to mobilize — we can’t let this kind of thing happen,” one of the protesters told the television station France 24. “Did we really need to see such shocking pictures before taking a stand? I don’t think so.”
French police officers fired tear gas to disperse the rally, which had turned violent.
Moussa Faki Mahamat, the chairman of the African Union Commission and the foreign minister of Chad, issued a statement after the rally, calling the auctions “despicable.” He urged the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights to assist the Libyan authorities with the investigation that they opened in response to CNN’s report.
The Guardian reported in April that West African migrants were being sold in modern-day slave markets in Libya, based on information from the International Organization for Migration, a United Nations agency. And Reuters reported on the issue in May.
Most of the migrants in Libya are fleeing armed conflict, persecution or severe economic hardship in sub-Saharan Africa. Their journey usually begins with a deadly trek through vast deserts to Libya and then involves either braving the Mediterranean Sea on rickety boats headed to Europe or struggling to survive in one of the overcrowded detention centers run by smugglers on the Libyan coastline.
Forced labor, sexual abuse and torture are widespread in these camps, according to the United Nations.
Since the Arab Spring uprising of 2011 ended the brutal rule of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, Libya’s coast has became a hub for human trafficking and smuggling. That has fueled the illegal migration crisis that Europe has been scrambling to contain since 2014.
Libya, which slid into chaos and civil war after the revolt, is now divided among three main factions: a feeble but internationally backed government in Tripoli; an ultraconservative Islamist government, also in Tripoli; and an anti-Islamist government in the east.
The reactions on Saturday highlight one of the many challenges facing the internationally recognized authorities in Libya, which are still struggling to restore order, win popular support and restore basic services like water and electricity.
The CNN report, published on Wednesday, detailed the horrors that African migrants experience while trying to reach Europe in search of a better life. It included video footage of a slave auction last month outside Tripoli, where about a dozen migrants were sold as slaves in a matter of minutes. That auction was one of many, CNN said.
The network attributed the recent emergence of slave markets in Libya to the sharp fall in migrant arrivals in Europe over the summer. The Italian government reportedly began paying the warlords controlling Libya’s coast to curb the flow of migrants earlier this year. In August alone, the arrivals of migrants in Italy fell 85 percent.
This drop, CNN said, appears to have created a backlog of customers for Libya’s smugglers, who have responded by auctioning off migrants for as little as $400.
In his statement, Mr. Mahamat, of the African Union Commission, announced that the union would hold talks with Libya and other stakeholders in the region to find “practical steps” that would “address the plight of the African migrants in Libya.”
He vowed that the union would “spare no effort to help bring these acts to an end.”