I was compelled to write this article after learning of the news, as incredible as it may seem, of modern-day slave markets in Libya, which in addition to other atrocities perpetrated against African migrants, are part of what the International Organization for Migration (IOM) has called a “valley of tears.”
Thinking back, I recall dozens of news reports on this North African country, which only 10 years ago was an example of a social system designed to benefit the poorest citizens, and instead of creating a slave market fueled by starving Africans, offered economic assistance to nations of the continent and was instrumental in the creation of the new African Union, which aims to support development projects across the region.
And although it might seem rash, I would even go as far as to say that Libya was something before 2011 and nothing after that date.
Now, a new, juicy business opportunity – in addition to oil – has become the focal point in Libya; 21st century human trafficking and slavery.
The testimonies of victims can unnerve even the most impervious of individuals.
This great tragedy is the fallout of the war that has been raging in Libya since 2011, when the country was bombed by the United States, France and NATO, and President Gaddafi assassinated.
On March 19, 2011, the French government – just like in colonial times – launched a military offensive against the North African country, using Rafale and Mirage 2000 aircrafts.
To dispel any doubts skeptics may have, I cite the March 17, 2011 article by the New York Times, which notes a growing “consensus in the Obama administration… that it should consider more aggressive airstrikes, which would make targets of Colonel Gaddafi’s tanks and heavy artillery.”
The U.S. government also considered releasing frozen Libyan assets to rebels for them to purchase weapons. Meanwhile, a different NYT article published on the same day, cites William J. Burns, U.S. undersecretary of state for policy as noting that the Obama administration has “authorized the opposition’s governing body, the Transitional National Council, to open an office in Washington.”
According to figures by international organizations the war in Libya has claimed between 10,000 and 15,000 lives.
It should also be noted that around that time Europe was the main exporter of arms to Libya, at a value of over 343 million euros.
Meanwhile, the United States and its European allies, were circling like vultures over Libya’s oil reserves – the largest in Africa and ninth worldwide.
The country is considered to be a highly attractive oil zone given its large crude reserves, low production costs, and proximity to European markets.
The United Nations has published various reports warning of the particularly vulnerable situation facing migrants and refugees in Libya, which has become both a transit and destination country.
There are numerous reports of wide ranging abuses – extortion, forced labor, sexual violence, and arbitrary arrests – by people traffickers and armed groups, as well as officials.
The decision by European countries to close their borders, far from providing a solution, has turned the Mediterranean Sea into an ever growing graveyard, as shown by the arrival of over 100,000 migrants to the coasts of Italy, the majority of whom set off from Libya, with some 3,000 dying in the attempt to reach the “First World.”
I believe it is high time that action be taken, with the full consent of Libyans of course, to change the difficult situation in Libya and the freedom with which those enslaving poor Africans operate - as tenuously denounced by UN bodies and other organizations.
There seems however to be no doubt that the solution to Libya’s problem includes an end, first and foremost, to foreign intervention and the use of military force.
Meanwhile, any internal changes must also feature the participation of tribal groups which form an important part of the country’s political, religious, and ethnic makeup.
It will be very difficult for Libya to stop acts as deplorable as slavery and people trafficking without a centralized and unified government, and institutions able to clean up the remnants of war, bombings by foreign powers and general tribal conflict.
In the meantime, Libya will continue to bear the title of the valley of tears, as poor Africans who arrive to the country continue to be subjected to slave-like treatment; an unimaginable situation in the 21st century.