African and Arab slave traders are running active slave markets in Libya, dealing in blacks trying to cross the Sahara Desert to invade Europe, it has emerged.
The slaves are used as forced labor until their families pay ransoms, with communications done by cell phone networks, and money transfer companies such as Western Union.
Sub-Saharan Africans held hostage in Sabha, Southern Libya. IOM supplied photographs.
According to a report by the United Nations’ International Organization for Migration (IOM), their staff in Niger and Libya have documented hundreds of cases of blacks being captured and sold in slavery while trying to get to Libya.
According to the IOM Operations Officer in Niger, one case involved an African from Senegal who had been captured by slavers but later freed, and had returned home after being held captive for months.
According to this Senegalese national, he had set off north to the town of Agadez, Niger, where he was told he would have to pay US $320 to continue north toward Libya.
A trafficker provided him with accommodation until the day of his departure, which was to be by pickup truck. It took two days to cross the Sahara, he said.
When the pickup reached Sabha in southwestern Libya, the driver insisted that he hadn’t been paid by the trafficker, and that he was transporting the invaders to a parking area which had obviously been predetermined.
There, the IOM account continued, the Senegalese national saw that they had been dropped off at a slave market.
The Africans were being sold and bought by Libyans, with the support of Ghanaians and Nigerians who work for them, the IOM report said.
The Senegalese national was sold and then transported under duress to his first prison, a private residence where more than 100 other African slaves were being held.
He said the kidnappers made the invaders call their families back home, and they often suffered beatings while on the phone so that their family members could hear them being tortured.
In order to be released from this first house, the Senegalese national was asked to pay US$480—an amount he could not raise.
He was then sold to another Libyan, who brought him to a bigger prison, where a new price was set for his release: US $970, to be paid via Western Union or Money Gram to someone called ‘Alhadji Balde’ in Ghana.
According to the IOM account, the Senegalese national managed to get some money from his family via mobile phone and then agreed to work as an interpreter for the kidnappers, to avoid further beatings. Some of the invaders, he said, who couldn’t pay were killed, or left to starve to death.
The Senegalese national said that when one of the slaves died, or was released, the kidnappers returned to the market to buy replacements. He also said that female invaders were bought at the market and brought to the prisons to be sex slaves.
An IOM staffer said that the African slaves who had been released all reported being sold in squares or garages in Sabha, either by their drivers or by locals who then forced them to work.
* The historical Arab slave trade in Africans ran from the seventh to the nineteenth centuries before it was halted by European military intervention. It was far larger and more extensive than the comparatively short-lived trans-Atlantic slave trade.