Recent reports about the Libyan slave trade adds further to the horror of what is going on in Libya and across the south Mediterranean region.
The Libyan slave trade has been known to be in operation for years. It accompanies the brutal exploitation of those fleeing poverty in Sudan, Chad and Nigeria. It is well illustrated by the story of Victor Imasuen, the young Nigerian interviewed by US broadcaster CNN on his return to Nigeria, a video that subsequently went viral.
Unemployment and poverty in Nigeria mushroomed in the wake of the 2014 collapse of oil prices. This in part led to the 2015 election of the All Progressive Congress (APC), a government which failed to ameliorate these conditions.
Unemployment has doubled over three years and now approaches 15%, with far higher rates among young. Strikes and union agitation remain high on the Nigerian trade union movement agenda, the national bodies, NLC/TUC, have been unable to deliver an effective fight against government corruption and the intimidation of the police and army against unions. There is now a strong movement among 180 million Nigerians to leave the country.
The obscenity of the EU’s response to the desperate plight of Nigerians and other Northern African migrants seeking sanctuary is well known. Operation Sophia was launched in 2015 to stem the flow of refugees coming mainly from Libya.
Those arrested mid-flight in the Mediterranean can be forcibly return to Libya for detention. The centres housing captured migrants include men, women and children. They are ripe with abuse, including rapes and murders. The British government was lobbying harder than most for such a policy from the EU. Libya’s department to combat illegal migration (DCIM) claims 19,900 people were being held in detention centres at the beginning of November. As the CNN footage showed they are herded into cages, often up to a thousand at a time, for unlimited periods. Now “entrepreneurs”in Libya are trying to make money in the market for slavery.
The Gaddafi regime was a brutal and hideously oppressive one but since its demolition warring factions have ripped the country to shreds. In response to Gaddafi’s exploitation of tribal and ethnic division, brutalities were committed by some of the rebel militias. The almost exclusively black African town of Tqwergha with 40,000 people was ethnically cleansed as early as the autumn of 2011 with horrific reports of sexual and other brutalities. Some of the militias recruited defecting elements from Gaddafi’s Libyan army, often combining with a resurgent and bloody sectarian Islamism.
Now the actions of the EU and Britain, by stopping the migrant flows, are trapping millions in this nightmare. The British and European labour movement has to act to challenge the obscenity of the curbs on freedom of movement enacted by their governments.
The blockade on the movement of migrants from Libya has to be lifted. Humane solidarity must replace the traffickers and slave traders. We need to find ways to support both the Nigerian workers’ movement and to the democrats and by workers in Libya fighting against religious sectarianism and racism.
Victory Imasuen’s story
Victory Imasuen told CNN: “When I was cutting the hair of one of my customers, he advised me to go to Europe where he promised I could earn a lot of money. Upon arriving in Libya, the driver said he had not been paid his money and we were sold into the slave trade in Sabha.
“They started beating me to call my mother to send money. For months, I did not hear from her. They kept on beating me everyday and I fell sick. If I went to the toilet, I was shitting blood.”
Eventually people in his home town managed to raise the money to secure Victory’s freedom. Victory attempted to travel to Tripoli, hoping to join the thousands of illegal migrants trying and reach Italy by boat.
“I didn’t even get to Tripoli before I was caught and taken to prison. I met more than 10,000 Nigerians there. We only eat once a day there — one piece of bread. I would drink salt water.”