The enslavement of men and women to provide free labor is mostly unheard of today in modern democracies and even in countries with less freedoms.
Yet, slavery does exist in some form around the world, notably under the name human trafficking.
One of the top stories of 2017 from overseas involves the thousands of refugees and migrants fleeing various West African countries to escape violence and economic instability who have wound up in a modern-day form of slavery in Libya.
Thousands of African men, women and children from Chad, Mali, Niger or Senegal have been captured and forced to provide free labor or become prostitutes in Libya and other parts of Northern Africa, according to reports by the United Nations, CNN and the international media.
Dr. Geoffroy deLaforcade, Professor of Latin American and Caribbean History at Norfolk State University, shed some light on the issue for the GUIDE. He said, the situation, ironically, is due in part to the destruction of the former government led by Muammar Gaddafi, a dictator, who was overthrown in 2011 by his opponents, including the United States and its allies.
Gaddafi was a supporter of the fleeing Africans who had used Libya as a route out of unstable portions of their native countries, or those pursuing educational and employment options in Libya without being discriminated against.
The destruction of Gaddafi’s government resulted in the current lawlessness in Libya where there are no institutions or law enforcement units to safeguard the safety or aid in freedom efforts for the African refugees and migrants.
Fear of terrorism and anti-migration sentiments have led European destinations to close their borders to the migrants, and the routes many of these people have used for decades to flee the economic chaos of their West African homelands have been destroyed.
Thousands of the migrants have sold all of their belongings to pay smugglers to transport them from Libya across the Mediterranean Sea to ports in Southern Europe, notably Italy which is the closest country from Libya to gain passage to parts of Europe.
The Italian Coast Guard has been stopping these ships and rickety handmade rafts, arresting human cargo and depositing them back in Libya in filthy and disorganized camps.
For the past three years, media accounts report more than 150,000 migrants and refugees have crossed into Europe from Libya. An estimated 3,000-plus have drowned each of the past four years trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea.
It is estimated that between 400,000 and 1 million migrants fleeing West African countries may now be trapped in Libya, where the vulnerable population is preyed upon by smugglers and other criminal elements who rob, rape, and murder them.
The infrastructure for the trafficking and selling of men, women and children has been in place for centuries with wealthy businessmen and tribesmen buying entrapped migrants for free labor or prostitution.
The slave trade in Libya was brought to the United Nations’ attention after undercover CNN reporters and other media, witnessed a dozen men being sold at an auction outside Libya’s capital of Tripoli.
Men are being bought for $500 and women, $700, according to Dr. deLaforcade.
Another factor contributing to the slave trade is race or the cultural practice of “shadism” in which dark-skinned people are targeted for various forms of oppression, including slavery. Most of the people in Libya are White Africans and their multi-century disdain for Black Africans is well known, said Dr. deLaforcade.
There has been little protest or threats of sanctions to stop the practice from the United States. British lawmakers have discussed it in Parliamentary meetings and condemned it, but have done little else.
There have been protests in the streets of Paris, near the Libyan Embassy and in the capital city of Nigeria by civil rights activists and migrants who have made it to Europe.
In a written statement released recently from a panel of UN experts, including Urmila Bhoola, special rapporteur on contemporary slavery, and Felipe Gonzalez Morales, special rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, the panel said it was “extremely disturbed” by the images.
“It is now clear that slavery is an outrageous reality in Libya. The auctions are reminiscent of one of the darkest chapters in human history, when millions of Africans were uprooted, enslaved, trafficked and auctioned to the highest bidder.”
“Call it Slavery 2.5,” Dr. deLaforcade said. “Slavery is alive and well in 2017. Thousands of West Africans are fleeing poverty, oppression and terrorism for a better way of life.
“If they get caught up in the webs of human trafficking, and cannot buy their way out by paying a ransom, they will become trapped.
“What will the western democracies do to help these people is the question at this point?”
By Leonard E. Colvin