The United Nations International Organization for Migration (IOM) has found slave markets along migrant routes in Africa from the Sahara to Libya, which is where the majority of the migrants will take another dangerous journey to Europe.

The staff found out that “hundreds of young African men are being traded in public in what they described as slave markets.” From The Independent:

“The situation is dire,” Mohammed Abdiker, IOM’s Director of Operation and Emergencies, warned.

“The more IOM engages inside Libya, the more we learn that it is a vale of tears for many migrants. Some reports are truly horrifying and the latest reports of ‘slave markets’ for migrants can be added to a long list of outrages.”

Migrant Stories

IOM interviewed one man they identified as SC for his protection. The Senegalese man has returned home after his traffickers held him captive for months.

Traffickers offered to transport SC to Libya from Niger for $320. The first two days went well, but that all changed in Sabha, located in southwest Libya. From IOM:

SC’s fate was different. When his pick-up reached Sabha in southwestern Libya, the driver insisted that he hadn’t been paid by the trafficker, and that he was transporting the migrants to a parking area where SC witnessed a slave market taking place. “Sub-Saharan migrants were being sold and bought by Libyans, with the support of Ghanaians and Nigerians who work for them,” IOM Niger staff reported this week.

SC described being ‘bought’ and then being brought to his first ‘prison’, a private home where more than 100 migrants were held as hostages.

He said the kidnappers made the migrants call their families back home, and 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, SC was asked to pay 300,000 CFA (about USD 480), which he couldn’t raise. He was then ‘bought’ by another Libyan, who brought him to a bigger house – where a new price was set for his release: 600,000 CFA (about USD 970), to be paid via Western Union or Money Gram to someone called ‘Alhadji Balde’, said to be in Ghana.

SC 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. He described dreadful sanitary conditions, and food offered only once per day. Some migrants who couldn’t pay were reportedly killed, or left to starve to death.

SC told IOM that when somebody died or was released, kidnappers returned to the market to ‘buy’ more migrants to replace them. Women, too, were ‘bought’ by private individuals – Libyans, according to this witness – and brought to homes where they were forced to be sex slaves.

IOM learned of another case, but this time from a woman. Kidnappers held her and others in Misrata, Libya, by Somalian men. IOM stated that reports show “this victim is subjected to rape and physical assault.” Her husband and son, who both live in the UK, have received ransom demands for her release. The husband has already sent $7,500, but the kidnappers want $7,500 more.

Previous Reports

Unfortunately, this has happened before. The IOM released a report in October 2016 detailing stories of migrants going through slavery before they attempt an escape to Europe.

This report found that 70% of the migrants faced exploitation and abuse on their route. The Independent reported:

Almost half of the men, women and children rescued in the Central Mediterranean said they had been imprisoned for ransom during their journey towards Europe, most commonly in Libya.

The research found migrants journeying via Libya are between seven and 10 times more likely to be abused than those reaching Europe from Turkey, with the likelihood of exploitation rising with the time they spend in transit at the mercy of smugglers.

A man known as Menethueos from Eritreas explained how kidnappers held him in Libya for four months and demanded $2,000 for ransom:

“Many times they beat and tortured me, but I didn’t have any family to call,” he said.

“They beat you when you are lying on the ground, with whatever they have in front of them. If they have an iron bar, they use it.

“They use a lot of things. They hit you with the back of the gun. Whatever they like. They tie your hands together and your legs together and you lie on your stomach and they leave you there, day and night.”

Kidnappers forced Maria, from Cameroon, into prostitution and raped her repeatedly. IOM found that many females who manage to make it to Europe arrive “pregnant with their abusers’ children.”

Children Victims

Yes, victims even include children. In February, UNICEF’s report documents awful details children endured on their journey to Europe. This includes slavery and sexual abuse. The report stated:

Recent data in a survey of women and child migrants in Libya during late 2016 reveal the appalling level of abuse along the migration route. At the time of the survey, 256,000 migrants were recorded in Libya, including 30,803 women and 23,102 children – a third of whom were unaccompanied. The real figures, however, are believed to be at least three times higher.

Most children and women indicated that they had paid smugglers at the beginning of their journey, leaving many in debt under ‘pay as you go’ arrangements and vulnerable to abuse, abduction and trafficking.

Women and children also reported harsh and overcrowded conditions, including lack of nutritious food and adequate shelter, in Libyan detention centres run by both Government and armed militias.