The FAQs: What You Should Know About the Libyan Slave Trade

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What just happened?

A recent investigation by CNN uncovered slave auctions being conducted in Libya. Using concealed cameras, the media organization caught on tape migrants and refugees from other countries being sold for $400 to $800.

Why is there a slave trade in Libya?

Two main factors have contributed to the Libyan slave trade: an abundance of vulnerable migrants and a fractured, failing government.

Libya is a key transit point for migrants and refugees in Africa—especially Algeria, Niger, Sudan, and Ethiopia—who are trying to relocate to Europe. Over the past three years about 450,000 people have made the dangerous crossing across the Mediterranean Sea from Libya. About 15,000 refugees have drowned over the past four years attempting to make the journey.

The Libyan Coast Guard, funded in part by the European Union, has been able to limit such crossings, causing many refugees and migrants to be trapped in Libya. An estimated 400,000 to 1 million people are stuck in Libyan detention camps where they are being robbed, raped, and murdered.

Because smugglers have a backlog of passengers, some smugglers have turned into slave masters, selling the defenseless migrants to be used for such tasks as farm labor.

The problem is exacerbated by Libya’s failed government. The country has been engaged in a civil war since 2014, and many areas of the country are out of reach of government influence. The areas controlled by Islamist and militia groups are especially likely to allow or endorse the slave trade.

How has Libya responded?

A day after CNN International broke the story, President Trump tweeted, in an unrelated matter, “CNN International is still a major source of (Fake) news, and they represent our Nation to the WORLD very poorly. The outside world does not see the truth from them!”

Both the Libyan media and Libyan diplomats in Africa seized on the tweet to discredit CNN’s reporting. One media outlet in the country said, “Here the possibility arises that the channel has published the report of slavery in Libya to secure an as yet hidden political objective.” And some Libyan diplomats said the CNN report was designed to tarnish the image of Libya.

However, after protests in Europe the Libyan government promised an investigation into the human trafficking going on in their country.

What is the response by the international community?

Last month African and European leaders meeting at a summit in the Ivory Coast agreed to attempt an imminent evacuation of migrants trapped in the camps.

The United Nations has also forcefully condemned the human trafficking going on in Libya. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called the trade a crime against humanity. “I abhor these appalling acts and call upon all competent authorities to investigate these activities without delay and to bring the perpetrators to justice,” Guterres said. “I have asked the relevant United Nations actors to actively pursue this matter.”

Earlier this week the UN Security Council also condemned the acts and called for an investigation. U.S Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley said the United States strongly supports the Security Council’s action to call attention to the atrocities, investigate the perpetrators, and care for the victims.

“It’s critical for the Security Council ‎to speak up when human rights abuses threaten the lives of innocent civilians. Reports that people escaping violence are being sold into slavery in Libya are horrifying,” Haley said. “All countries must do everything they can to end this barbaric practice. Until that time, those committing these unspeakable crimes must be brought to justice, and the victims must be treated with the respect and dignity that they deserve.”

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