Written by Serie McDougal and Sureshi Jayawardene
In the past month or so, there has been increased attention brought to the ongoing practice of the enslavement and trafficking of Black African migrants in Libya. Libyan ‘slave markets’ are not a new phenomenon, however. The International Organization for Migration, the UNs migration agency, reported in April this year that North African migrant routes were rife with ‘slave markets’ where “hundreds of young African men bound for Libya” were subject to treacherous conditions. For Black African migrants and refugees trying to reach Europe by sea, Libya is the main transit point. Many of them, from countries like Gambia, Ghana, Nigeria, and Senegal, face rape, torture, starvation, disease, and murder. Since the ouster of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, Libya has struggled to implement the rule of law and descended into civil war and lawlessness. Given this unstable political climate, Libyans see the slave trade as a lucrative industry. TIME reports some important figures for the dangers facing Black African refugees and migrants in Libya:
As a Pan-African community, this is a time for a multilayered response to the situation of our people in Libya. We commend the US foreign policy efforts advanced just this week by Congresswoman Karen Bass, who is also the top Democrat on the House Subcommittee on Africa. Rep. Bass introduced a bill calling for the U.S. government to “impose sanctions against Libya if the country fails to end slave auctions and other forms of forced labor”and hold accountable parties to human smuggling and trafficking as well as Libyan “detention center guards.” Rep. Bass’s resolution also calls for the U.S. Secretary of State and Administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Develop to use allocated funds to provide humanitarian assistance to migrants and refugees in Libyan detention centers. This bill urges the African Union to conduct its own independent investigation into the Libyan slave crisis.
We commend African countries making efforts to facilitate the repatriation of captives; all those placing pressure on countries to adopt the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime; the shared commitments of the African Union, European Union, and United Nations (reached on Wednesday, November 29th) to work collectively to “freeze the assets of human traffickers” and refer them to the ICC; and, all those pressuring the international community to not only investigate but issue convictions.
Lastly, as a research institution, we urge Africana scholars and practitioners to counter any evasion of the protracted history of abuses targeted at indigenous Black African ethnicities and cultural practices in North Africa so that present abuses may be placed in proper context and not rendered invisible or detached from a larger history of North African oppression targeting Black African people.