Exclusive: Migrants speak of 'unbearable torture' at Libya slave auctions

Exclusive: Migrants speak of 'unbearable torture' at Libya slave auctions
The New Arab spoke to African migrants who recently escaped from Libya, where they were caughtup in slave auctions during their journey of migration in search of a better life.
3 min read
26 November, 2017
Libya has long been a major transit hub for migrants trying to reach Europe [AFP]
Survivors of slave auctions in Libya speak of "unbearable torture" and "living hell", as hidden camera footage showing migrants being sold off prompted global outrage last week. 

The New Arab spoke to migrants from Mali who recently returned to the West African country after they had been caught up in Libya slave auctions during their journey of migration in search of a better life.

They spoke of physical and psychological torture as well as forced labour. Some were held for days without food and threatened with death every time they spoke.

Two migrants confirmed to The New Arab they had been trafficked by Libyan bandits, who smuggled them secretly into a slave market and exploited their dreams of reaching Europe for a better life.

"I suffered unbearable torture and a living hell in Libya," 23-year-old Diaba told The New Arab. "I thought at many times that my life was over and that I would never be able to return to my country again."

Diaba and a group of other migrants had taken a land route in June, travelling from Mali, through neighbouring Niger to Libya.

"We crossed the border from Mali to Niger, and from there to Libya, without being stopped at any border crossing."

Diaba described Libya as an anarchic state, where he alleged forces of law and order were themselves involved in human trafficking.

"In southern Libya, we met with men who agreed to take us to the town of Zuwarah on the Mediterranean coast (west of Tripoli), but we later realised they were accomplices with local gangs," he said.

"The transported us to the a town near Misrata (east of Tripoli), where we were held for days and treated like animals."

Diaba was transferred from one gang to another, each squandering further his dream of immigrating to Europe, making his ultimate ambition to escape them and return back home.

He spent five months in Libya, where he struggled with violence, beatings and lack of food and water.

"My fate, along with that of hundreds of other immigrants from different nationalities, was unknown," he said.

"We were treated in the most horrific ways. We were transferred between gangs and transported from one place to another - as if we were goods."

"When we complained, we were beaten and threatened with arms."

Diaba said he finally escaped with the help of three men and turned himself in to local authorities at an immigration centre in Libya. He subsequently returned to Mali.

The New Arab also spoke with a 26-year-old man named Yvonne, who described how gangs showed no mercy towards African migrants.

Yvonne said he was robbed of all his possessions and forced to work in a field and as a guard. He was held in Libya for eight months before escaping.

"We were beaten, treated horribly and threatened with death," he told The New Arab. "These gangs are ruthless and take advantage of migrants' needs to control smuggling points across the sea."

Yvonne shared horrifying details over the auction of dozens on African migrants as slaves.

"African men were sold before my own eyes for sums ranging from $700 to $900 per person," he said.

Libya has long been a major transit hub for migrants trying to reach Europe.

Recent testimonies emerging from the war-torn country reveal that the number of human traffickers has drastically increased in recent months.

The slave auction footage aired by CNN last week has triggered a global outcry, bringing to public consciousness a situation that was previously noted by NGOs and human rights observers.

The UN has called for these auctions to be investigated as possible crimes against humanity, and the issue will feature on the agenda of an African Union-EU summit in Abidjan on November 29 – 30.