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African Union and Libya’s ‘slave market’


A migrant holds his head as he stands in a packed room at the Tariq Al-Matar detention centre on the outskirts of the Libyan capital Tripoli on November 27, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / TAHA JAWASHI

The numerous reported cases of enslavement and killings in Libya of trafficked Nigerians in search of greener pastures abroad have been so heart-rending and it just must be acknowledged as a national disgrace that more than 8,800 stranded migrants have had to be repatriated home this year alone: There is something, certainly wrong with a country from which its citizens run in such droves even at grave risk to their lives.

The cause of human trafficking is certainly widespread poverty, unemployment, recession and poor infrastructure hampering small and medium scale businesses. Other triggers are ignorance, peer pressure, desire to migrate for study and work in the urban city and abroad, violent conflicts, weak legal system and porous borders. Corrupt government officials, the involvement of organised international criminal groups or networks, limited capacity of or commitment by immigration and law enforcement officers to controlling borders and lack of adequate legislation, also contribute. False marriage proposals from men to women who plan to sell them into bondage and the practice of entrusting poor children to more affluent friends or relatives, which create vulnerability, are equally potent factors.

The issue of human trafficking is not peculiar to Nigeria, because on a daily basis, other African migrants from nations including Guinea, Senegal, Mali, Niger and Gambia make the dangerous crossing through the Sahara to Libya with hopes of making it across the Mediterranean Sea to Italy and other parts of Europe. Unfortunately, many end up stuck in the North African nation for years, facing rights abuses in the hands of gang leaders, human traffickers and the Libyan security forces.

Those fortunate enough to be alive end up with severe torture or are sold out as slaves. The trending television footage of a live auction in Libya, where black young men and young ladies were presented to North African buyers as potential farmhands and sold off for as little as $400 not only buttresses this, but has brought to the fore the ugly reality of the plight of trafficked victims. This is a human tragedy.

It is more fundamentally heart-breaking that people’s lives are being destroyed by traffickers using false promises, leading to unprecedented wave of illegal migration. And Libya being a transit country has now become the African slave ‘market’. What a shame!

This phenomenon, of course, is a “blight on the conscience of humanity. Little wonder the African Union the other day called on Libyan authorities to investigate the “slave markets” of black Africans operating in that nation. In fact, Guinean President, Alpha Conde, who is also chairman of the African Union appropriately, demanded an inquiry and prosecutions relating to the issue, which he termed a “despicable trade … from another era.”

Obviously, human trafficking is an international humanitarian crisis across Africa and should not be treated with kid gloves. As such, the African Union should use all the tools at its disposal to put an end to this modern slavery, while Libya should be encouraged and supported to return those taken as slaves to their countries of origin. For those victims still in Libya, the authorities there should reassess migrants’ detention conditions and make them more human-friendly and habitable.

Internally, the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons, NAPTIP, should ensure the rescue of Nigerian victims trapped in different parts of Africa by coming up with a National Plan of Action to ensure that those stranded in Libya and other parts of Africa are rescued and brought back to Nigeria. Specifically, NAPTIP should reinforce and supplement measures in international treaties and conventions on trafficked victim, work in collaboration with other agencies or bodies such as the Police, customs, immigration, non-profit organisations to ensure the return of the victims. Returnee victims should be kept in shelters, counselled, rehabilitated and reintegrated into the society. Again, NAPTIP should commence independent investigations into the case of Nigerians sold as slaves in Libya.

To ensure the elimination and prevention of trafficking of people, government and other stakeholders should initiate more economic programmes that will create employment for the youth that are mainly at the risk of being trafficked. NAPTIP should embark on social engineering campaigns to sensitise the citizenry on a continuous basis, so that those at the potential risk are aware of the dangers. Also, there is the need to regularly sensitise young people on their rights and on the available forms of protection against abuse, exploitation and procurement into slavery. To the Nigerian youth desperate to go abroad, it is obvious that there is no place like home. Parents should therefore train their children on the path of honour as poverty is not an excuse for lack of character. In addition, parents should motivate their children to aspire and work hard to achieve a better tomorrow.

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