By Grace Donnelly
November 29, 2017

Migrants and refugees stuck in Libya are being sold into slavery, CNN reported earlier this month.

The combination of Libya’s splintered government in the wake of Muammar Gaddafi’s fall and the influx of people from Nigeria has led to a situation where stranded men and women are being held against their will and, in some cases, sold into slavery or prostitution.

“As shocking as it seems, it’s indeed true. The reason [the slave trade] can happen is because there is really no rule of law across much of Libya,” Leonard Doyle of the International Organization of Migration told Al Jazeera.

Each year for the past three years, more than 150,000 migrants and refugees have crossed into Europe from Libya in hopes of making their way to a new life. It’s a treacherous journey. More than 3,000 people have drowned each of the past four years trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea.

A Libyan coast guardsman stands on a boat during the rescue of 147 illegal immigrants attempting to reach Europe off the coastal town of Zawiyah, 45 kilometres west of the capital Tripoli, on June 27, 2017.
TAHA JAWASHI/AFP/Getty Images

Recently, with help from Italy, the Libyan coast guard has been capturing vessels smuggling people into Europe. It’s estimated that between 400,000 and 1 million migrants 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.

“We cannot even guess the scale of the abuses inflicted on migrants in all these hidden places, untouched by the rule of law,” U.N. human rights commissioner Zeid Ra’ad Al Huseein said in a September statement. “The situation of migrants crossing Libya was appalling during Gaddafi’s era, but it has become diabolical since.”

Who is buying slaves in Libya?

Smugglers who are now unable to get the people — who have often sold all their possessions in order to pay their way — into Europe are holding them against their will. When warehouses overflow or migrants run out of money to pay the smugglers, some are sold into slavery.

CNN recorded footage of men being sold for $400 as farm laborers at a nighttime auction in Libya. This reporting sparked global outrage and international organizations are now making an effort to investigate the situation and provide transportation for stranded migrants.

On Wednesday, nearly 250 Nigerian migrants returned to their home country. Officials from Nigeria have been working with the International Organization of Migration and told CNN that a total of 5,000 Nigerians have come back from Libya in the past year.

Who is Samuel Eto’o?

As more outlets have started covering the slave trade in Libya, various celebrities have drawn attention to the issue. One professional soccer player’s name has come up often in connection with the coverage.

Samuel Eto’o is a former professional soccer player — a striker for Chelsea, Inter Milan and Barcelona — from Cameroon who was recently rumored to have chartered a plane to fly migrants out of Libya and back to their home nation.

Draw assistant Samuel Eto'o draws Cameroon in African Zone draw at the Preliminary Draw of the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia at The Konstantin Palace on July 25, 2015 in Saint Petersburg, Russia.
Dennis Grombkowski/Getty Images

He denied these claims Wednesday, but called for his countrymen to “use this time to prevent other brothers from being deprived of their dignity.”

Many other celebrities and public figures have spoken out against the slavery in Libya including civil rights activist Al Sharpton, actress Tessa Thompson, and artists Common and Pharrell Williams.

President Donald Trump on Libya

While President Donald Trump has not commented specifically on the reports out of Libya, he did tweet about CNN International spreading “fake news” after a story about the slave trade there was published.

Libyan media seized this statement and used it to try to discredit CNN’s reporting about the slave trade in the country.

“Here the possibility arises that the channel has published the report of slavery in Libya to secure an as yet hidden political objective,” a Libyan broadcaster said, adding it was striking that the president’s comments came just a day after the report.

How to Help

There are a few ways to help stop the slave trade in Libya, as Bustle pointed out in a much-applauded post, and raise awareness about the 40 million people enslaved worldwide.

Supporting the International Organization for Migration, which is working in Libya, helps them protect migrants in the country. Donating to global anti-slavery organizations, like Free the Slaves, End Slavery Now, and the Polaris Project also helps those working to end slavery around the world.

People wanted to help can also advocate for a thorough investigation in Libya by the United Nations, and call on U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley to push for strong and swift action to combat the issue.

UN envoy to Libya, Martin Kobler, talks to illegal migrants during a visit at a detention centre in the Libyan capital tripoli on February 21, 2017.
MAHMUD TURKIA/AFP/Getty Images

Supporting organizations like the United Nations Refugee Agency, the World Food Program, Oxfam, Save The Children, and Medecins Sans Frontieres that fight the root causes of slavery, such as extreme poverty and displacement, helps refugees and other vulnerable populations.

It has also been suggested that people wanting to help stop the slave trade in Libya should hold corporations accountable. It’s been reported that Facebook, for instance, was reportedly used by smugglers to broadcast videos of migrants held against their will. There’s another side to that coin: People wanted to help can seek out companies that combat slave labor in the supply chain.

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