IOM: African migrants traded in Libya’s ‘slave markets’

People are held for ransom, forced labour or sexual exploitation after being sold for up to $500, UN agency says.

Libya is the main gateway for people attempting to reach Europe by sea [File: Ismail Zitouny/Reuters]

Hundreds of African refugees and migrants passing through Libya are being bought and sold in modern-day slave markets before being held for ransom, forced labour or sexual exploitation, survivors have told the UN’s migration agency.

The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) said on Tuesday that it had interviewed West African migrants who recounted being traded in garages and car parks in the southern city of Sabha, one of Libya’s main people smuggling hubs.

People are purchased for between $200 and $500 and are held on average for two or three months, Othman Belbeisi, head of the IOM’s Libya mission, said in Geneva.

“Migrants are being sold in the market as a commodity,” he said. “Selling human beings is becoming a trend among smugglers as the smuggling networks in Libya are becoming stronger and stronger.”

The refugees and migrants – many from Nigeria, Senegal and The Gambia – are captured as they head north towards Libya’s Mediterranean coast, where some try to catch boats for Italy.

Along the way, they are prey to an array of armed groups and people smuggling networks that often try to extort extra money in exchange for allowing them to continue.

READ MORE: Refugee child abuse rampant in Libya, says UNICEF

Most of them are used as day labourers in construction or agriculture. Some are paid and but others are forced to work without getting any money.


“Over the past few days, I have discussed these stories with several who told me horrible stories.

“They all confirmed the risks of been sold as slaves in squares or garages in Sabha, either by their drivers or by locals who recruit the migrants for daily jobs in town, often in construction, and later, instead of paying them, sell their victims to new buyers.

“Some migrants – mostly Nigerians, Ghanaians and Gambians – are forced to work for the kidnappers/slave traders as guards in the ransom houses or in the ‘market’ itself.”

IOM Niger staffer

“About women, we heard a lot about bad treatment, rape and being forced into prostitution,” Belbeisi said.

The IOM said it had spoken to one Senegalese migrant who was held in a Libyan’s private house in Sabha with about 100 others, who were beaten as they called their families to ask for money for their captors.

He was then bought by another Libyan, who set a new price for his release.

Some of those who cannot pay their captors are reportedly killed or left to starve to death, the IOM said. When migrants die or are released, others are purchased to replace them.

‘Valley of tears’

The agency said migrants are buried without being identified, with families back home uncertain of their fate.

“The situation is dire,” Mohammed Abdiker, IOM’s director of operations and emergencies ho recently returned from a visit to  Libya’s capital, Tripoli, said in a statement, calling Libya a “valley of tears” for many refugees and migrants.

“What we know is that migrants who fall into the hands of smugglers face systematic malnutrition, sexual abuse and even murder,” he added.

“Last year we learned 14 migrants died in a single month in one of those locations, just from disease and malnutrition. We are hearing about mass graves in the desert.”

To warn potential migrants, the IOM is spreading testimonies of victims through social media and local radio stations.

Libya is the main gateway for people attempting to reach Europe by sea, with more than 150,000 people making the crossing in each of the past three years.

So far this year an estimated 26,886 migrants have crossed to Italy, over 7,000 more than during the same period in 2016.

More than 600 are known to have died at sea, while an unknown number perish during their journey north through the desert.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies

What can Ghana teach South Africa about neocolonialism?

On how the man who coined the term “neocolonialism” fell victim to it and how not to repeat his mistakes.

Ghana's first post-independence president, Kwame Nkrumah, was overthrown in a US-backed military coup in 1966 [AP]
Ghana’s first post-independence president, Kwame Nkrumah, was overthrown in a US-backed military coup in 1966 [AP]



Brian Kamanzi is a Cape Town-based writer and electrical engineering Masters student at the University of Cape Town.

In 2011, the South African government announced a plan to create a 9.6-gigawatt nuclear energy programme. The project, they argued, would allow South Africa to diversify its energy sector, move away from coal-based energy production and boost economic growth.

But soon questions were raised about who this large-scale industrial project would ultimately benefit. Allegations have been made that public participation was being sidelined and that interested parties were colluding with the Russian government.

The controversial nuclear programme is just one example of the many economic policies that have shaped South Africa’s development along a clearly neocolonial path. Twenty-three years after the collapse of the apartheid regime, the country is clearly still in need of a wider decolonisation project to counter colonial economic legacy.

In the wake of this massive nuclear deal, along with others of its kind, South Africa is in a moment that demands us to look beyond its borders and learn hard lessons from other nations on the African continent.

The Ghana example

The term neocolonialism, purportedly coined by Ghanaian President Kwame Nkrumah, describes the socioeconomic and political control exercised over a decolonised nation economically, linguistically, and culturally, by a neocolonialist country to open up the national economy to its corporations.

But despite identifying neocolonialism as a threat and warning newly independent African countries about it, Nkrumah ended up falling prey to it.

His rapid industrialisation plan which sought to usher Ghana into the “modern industrial era” in the closing breaths of the 1950s was anchored on the large scale Akosombo hydroelectric dam project.

British colonialists were first to put forward plans for the dam almost two decades prior to independence. After he came to power, Nkrumah picked the project and sought to repurpose its design for the benefit of the Ghanaian people and its economy by using it to bolster their aluminium production and aid in the electrification of the country.

Nkrumah had great difficulty financing the large-scale project and eventually, his government solicited financing from US firms through a joint venture with the Volta Aluminium Company and Kaiser Aluminium. After various rounds of negotiations and lobbying for finances eventually including the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development under the World Bank the dam was eventually completed by mid-1960s.

The agreement with Kaiser Aluminium led to their smelters profiting from highly subsidised electricity rates and the use of imported bauxite raw materials avoiding building national capacity and mitigating the risk of nationalisation.

OPINION: West Africa and Europe trade deal – who will benefit more?

Nkrumah’s gamble to finance Ghana’s rapid industrialisation project from the West ultimately was among the key factors which resulted in his regime’s demise. Corruptionboth within the party and on the part of American and European multinationals ate into the country’s economy by selling expensive and flamboyant projects that were not designed for the specific needs and operational context of the country.

This created a fragile climate and as Ghana’s cocoa industry – which provided considerable foreign exchange to the country – collapsed under pressure from falling prices, Africa’s first independent nation came on the verge of bankruptcy.

This laid the ground for a US-backed coup d’etat against Nkrumah, who at the time had become increasingly vocal of his ideals of African socialism and ills of capitalist society at large.

Ghana’s economic crisis continued to worsen as the World Bank pushed for structural adjustment in the 1970s and 1980s. The austerity measures that then followed in the 1980s led to public sector job shedding and wide-scale privatisation at the expense of investment in other areas of the economy, such as small-scale farming.

South Africa’s neocolonial path

Although South Africans managed to defeat the colonial apartheid regime, they never really had a chance to “decolonise” the economy.

After apartheid-era economic sanctions were lifted, multinational corporations capitalised on an already unequal exploitative environment. They gained favourable access to the country’s raw resources, while ensuring that manufactured goods continue to be imported.

The African National Congress (ANC) – surely aware of Nkrumah’s warnings – did not really try to stop this process. In fact, it has very much participated in it and, along the way, has faced numerous accusations of public sector corruption and private sector collusion.

In a state of the nation address in February 2017, President Jacob Zuma alluded to renewed interest in “radical-transformation” of the economy along the lines of its Broad Based Black Economic Empowerment framework, which has been criticised for disproportionately benefiting both white women and the black middle class. Within the same speech, he praised a large scale railway development project with China.

The proposed nuclear deal is set to stand as one of the largest government tenders ever issued (around $72bn) and will take decades to pay off. To date, there is little to no evidence of any large-scale education programmes or investments to expand and train scientists, technicians and engineers in nuclear technologies.

OPINION: Even if Zuma goes, South Africa will remain divided

The evident lack of capacity within South Africa in relation to the nuclear expansion plans place the country at risk of technical and economic dependency on Russia should they win the tender. Financing the deal will increase the cost of electricity during the repayment period, which, in light of South Africa’s slowing economy, carries frightening echoes of what happened in post-Nkrumah Ghana.

Resisting neocolonialism

Rapidly expanding inequalities, financial continuities from apartheid and colonial-era enterprises, along with the broadly acknowledged failures of land redistribution paint the simmering background of a nation in crisis.

For every crisis however there lies hope and opportunity. In April 2017, a new trade union federation is to be launched, breaking away from the ANC-dominated COSATU. This potentially massive rift in the labour movement presents an opportunity for building new counter-hegemonic forces, riding on the unprecedented wave of strikes and demonstrations.

The burgeoning student movement in South Africa is also a force to be reckoned with. Since the upsurge of the 2015 period, it has remained consistent in its instance on the revival of “decolonisation” as trans-historical approach to combating the entrenched and predatory imperial forces.

One of its demands is to decolonise curricula, which could help develop technologies and locally driven systems that do not require us to be economically dependent on global superpowers.

One area of research that should be supported is renewable energy which is a clean, efficient and locally sustainable alternative to nuclear energy. Renewable technologiesare already cheap enough to be locally implemented and could compensate for the loss of jobs as a result of the potential closure of a number of coal power stations.

In a time of growing cynicism, when the lofty ideals of the South African independence generation ring hollow in the hills and plains of a divided country, the fight against oppression and neocolonialism continues daily among community organisations, workers, unions and students.

As we stand at the precipice of new era of nuclear investment, abstract and romantic calls to wait for a “new” vision or messianic liberation movement defy the urgencies of indebting the generations to come. If history tells us anything, it is that solidarity and resilience are built from below and ours is a task to support and nurture those who push to walk that path.

Brian Kamanzi is a Cape Town-based writer and electrical engineering Masters student at the University of Cape Town. He describes himself as committed to the social upliftment of his fellow people. He is a budding Pan-Africanist, eager to make contributions to the movement and form cross-cultural connections with others in the struggle. Follow his writing here.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.

News > Latin America

Argentina Mourns Slain Anti-Femicide Activist with Mass Rally

  • People march in support of Micaela Garcia.

    People march in support of Micaela Garcia. | Photo: Twitter / RegionalLaPlata

Published 11 April 2017 (14 hours 18 minutes ago)
Officials are looking into ousting Judge Rossi, who had been responsible for releasing serial rapist and Garcia’s killer, Sebastian Wagner.

Family, friends and other supporters flocked Tuesday to bid farewell to Argentina’s latest femicide victim, 21-year old Micaela Garcia, a Ni Una Menos activist, vocal against femicides whose body was found Saturday in a rural field in Gualeguay.

Outrage Shakes Argentina After Murder of Anti-Femicide Activist

While the procession began with family and friends Tuesday morning, the ceremony will be later open to the public, with the day-long memorial activities culminating in a march to the Plaza de Mayo in Bueno Aires. The burial of her body will take place in between at the Cementerio de Concepcion del Uruguay in Entre Rios.

Garcia, who was an activist against sexist violence, had been missing for a week after she attended a nightclub in Gualeguay. Her naked body was found Saturday morning. Experts reported she was strangled to death the same day she disappeared.

Her suspected killer, Sebastian Wagner, arrested Saturday, is a serial rapist with previous charges of rape against him. While his original sentencing was to be imprisoned for those instances of rape until at least 2020 after being convicted in 2010, a judge had reduced his sentence. As such, the target of the protests this weekend in Moreno was also Judge Carlos Rossi, who was responsible for releasing Wagner early.

“Here are two people responsible: the murderer of Micaela and a judge who released him despite being advised against doing so,” said Fabiana Tuñez, the president of the National Women’s Council, at the time.

Officials are also looking into ousting Rossi, who was even challenged by President Mauricio Macri.

“Unfortunately, taking these kinds of decisions in an unscrupulous way and without looking at the victims, nor the context, leads us to this kind of tragedy,” said Minister of Justice German Garavano, adding that he was in favor of removing the judge from his post.

Several provincial deputies will be working to call for the removal of the judge.

‘Every 30 Hours’ an Argentine Woman Dies: Documentary

Outrage shook the country following Garcia’s killing, with several marches being organized throughout the country since her body was found.

According to Casa del Encuentro, almost 3,000 women have been killed in Argentina since 2008, when the organization started to monitor femicides. Despite the inclusion of “femicide” in the criminal code in 2012, only one man has been sentenced for femicide charges since then.

The movement against femicide saw a resurgence in Argentina last year, sparking a wider uprising across the region against gender violence and the systemic impunity enjoyed by the perpetrators of femicide and domestic abuse.

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