The man appears to be in his twenties––the same age or a few years older than I am. He’s shaking. His eyes are wide with fear as he stands by the auctioneer.
Only the hand of the auctioneer is visible as it rests on the man’s trembling shoulder.
The auctioneer begins offering values––800, 900, 1,000––then he stops at the final number: 1,200. Sold for 1,200 Libyan dinars, or the equivalent of 800 U.S. dollars.
Not a car. Not a dining table. Not a piece of artwork.
A human life.
The man visible in the grainy video obtained by CNN is one of thousands offered up for “farm work.” Within minutes, men and women are sold into modern-day slavery for as little as 400 U.S. dollars. They are quickly given away into the hands of their new masters and torn from everything they know.
Each year, thousands of refugees flood Libya’s borders in search of a better life in Europe. Most of the refugees have spent all their savings to finance their voyage, and the Libyan Coast Guard’s new guidelines have greatly decreased the number of boats going out to sea.
This recent crackdown has enabled organized gangs to create smuggling rings to take advantage of refugees. As CNN reports, the smugglers will fill a boat with over 100 people. Migrants may or may not make it at sea, but the smugglers don’t care as long as they get paid.
One man, a 21-year-old named Victory, said he fled home a year and four months ago and spent his entire life savings in hopes of reaching Europe. Victory made it to Libya, along with other migrants, and was held in horrific conditions. He and others were deprived of food and regularly abused by their captors.
Victory was eventually sold as a day laborer and was told his profits would pay off his debt. Yet, after months of work, he was told the money wasn’t enough. His smugglers then resold him several more times.
Before Victory could be released, the smugglers demanded ransom payments from his family. Now he waits in a detention center, preparing to be sent back to Nigeria.
Many migrants are able to make it to Europe, but many others like Victory return home empty-handed.
Since CNN’s reports, the Libyan government has launched a formal investigation. However, although the Libyan government is backed by the U.N., it is largely considered a broken state.
The country descended into civil war after Muammar Gaddafi, who ran the country for four decades, was removed in 2011. The new form of government has failed to execute law in Libya, causing the country to break into factions of militia groups and gangs. In the current state of Libya, the slave trade is considered normal.
To eradicate the slave trade crisis, Libya needs international assistance.
After CNN released the viral video, protests began outside Libyan embassies, and several countries voiced their disdain. In late November, African and European leaders agreed on an evacuation plan to fly 15,000 migrants out of Libya and back to their home countries. They also created initiatives to dismantle trafficking networks.
My heart breaks for these migrants who were misled into believing they were en route to a better life. Instead, these human lives are treated like cattle.
The day before the evacuation plan was formed, the U.N. Security Council held an emergency meeting and agreed to “step up its work” to stop the abuse.
It’s easy to think ordinary people have no power to stop the Libyan Slave Trade, and while ultimately it is up to the U.N., there are a few things you can do to help.
For one, you can support the International Organization for Migration (IOM). The IOM has been working in Libya to protect the rights of migrants and prevent them from being sold into servitude. The organization is currently pushing Libyan authorities to create alternatives to migrant detention centers—the source of the majority of exploitation—and demanding authorities to bring justice by holding captors accountable for their actions.
You can also help by donating to organizations that help refugees, such as the United Nations Refugee Agency and other organizations which help with development across the world in countries migrants are fleeing from.
Lastly, hold social media companies accountable.
According to the IOM, smugglers have actually used Facebook live to broadcast videos of imprisoned migrants as a way of extorting money from their families. The IOM is currently asking social media companies to regulate and ban this sort of usage, and by writing to social media organizations, you can help have an impact.
This type of abuse should not exist. No man, woman or child should live this life or face this injustice. The fact this cruelty has gone unnoticed for months, perhaps years, is disgusting.
As U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley said, “There are few greater violations of human rights and human dignity than this.”