African migrants are being sold as slaves in open markets in Libya

Far from home.
Far from home.
Image: Reuters/Ismail Zitouny
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African migrants trying to reach Europe by way of Libya are being auctioned off in car parks, garages, and as well as public squares, in what staff at the International Organization for Migration (IOM) has described as “slave markets.”

Victims from Senegal, Gambia, and other sub-Saharan African countries told the agency that they had been detained by smugglers or militia groups who demanded ransoms from their families. Those who couldn’t pay were sold in the markets to Libyan buyers.

“Apparently they don’t have money and their families cannot pay the ransom, so they are being sold to get at least a minimum benefit from that,” the IOM’s chief of mission for Libya, Othman Belbeisi, told the BBC.

Others reported being sold into forced labor by their drivers, or by locals who had recruited them with promises of paid work in Libya.

In some cases, migrants sold at markets were put to work in the trafficking industry, working as guards in “ransom houses” where other migrants are kept. Migrants with specific work skills were sold for higher prices. “The price is definitely different depending on your qualifications, for example if you can do painting or tiles or some specialized work then the price gets higher,” Belbeisi said.

“Migrants who go to Libya while trying to get to Europe, have no idea of the torture archipelago that awaits them just over the border,” said Leonard Doyle, chief IOM spokesman in Geneva. “There they become commodities to be bought, sold and discarded when they have no more value.”