By Morak Babajide-Alabi
The plight of immigrants in the African country of Libya has of late been of concern as the world arose from the slumber it has been for ages. We have just accepted that African migrants, desperately seeking to cross over to Europe, are not only dying in the Mediterranean Sea, but a sizeable number of them are traded as slaves in open markets in Libya.
Last month the popular Cable News Network (CNN) brought into our living rooms a video clip of black migrants being sold in night markets in Libya. It showed migrants auctioned off for as little as four hundred dollars. Ever since CNN put out this clip, a lot of attention has been generated to the plight of migrants in Libya.
As usual, the world and international agencies leaders have condemned the acts in Libya. They spoke against the slave trade and promised it would be investigated. We were lost in their sympathies, but at the same time, we also asked if these leaders were truly ignorant of what was going on in Libya, and probably in some other parts of the world. We live in a pretend world where, until pointed out, everything is okay.
There had been numerous reports in the past alerting the world to the illegal trade and smuggling in Libya. Earlier this year, I watched a documentary, Ross Kemp: Libya’s Migrant Hell. It was an exclusive report on what migrants (mostly blacks, from the West African countries) trying to cross to Europe are detained, brutalised, raped while some of them lose their lives in the process.
I recollect the revelations of some of the migrants interviewed by Kemp for the programme. A very detailed and exhaustive documentary, Kemp took us on a journey through the detention centres, life in the desert and a night patrol with the Libyan Coast Guards. Kemp was practically begging the whole world that the migrants’ story needs a “rewrite” as a matter of urgency. He alerted us that some of these migrants are being sold off from the detention centres as a result of overcrowding or when the smugglers could not extort money from the migrants any longer.
Before CNN, Kemp had attempted to arouse the human side of the world leaders. For strange reasons, the documentary did not get as much attention as near the latest clip from CNN. This, probably, can be explained by the fact that CNN is more global in reach than Sky TV where Kemp’s was originally broadcast.
This is not to undermine the efforts of the CNN crew that brought the world’s attention to this dastardly act. Since this exposé, other video clips have surfaced on the social media. We have read about the experiences of some of the migrants who managed to escape, while those repatriated have also told their stories.
In January this year, the Senior Special Assistant to the Nigerian President on Foreign Affairs and Diaspora, Abike Dabiri-Erewa appealed to Nigerian migrants to avoid Libya as the penalty for illegal migration to the country, when caught, is usually a death sentence. She disclosed that NEMA (National Management Emergency Agency) alongside, the Nigerian Embassy in Libya evacuated over 2000 Nigerians from Libya sometimes towards the end of 2016.
This piece of advice shared on Twitter caught my eyes, and not totally convinced by the sincerity of the statement, I replied to Dabiri-Erewa’s tweet – “So is it okay for Nigerians to try illegal immigration elsewhere as long as it’s not Libya? Hmm!” I continued in another tweet – “It is not only Libya that is unsafe on the route to Europe. Nigerians should be discouraged on illegal immigration”.
Looking back now, I commend the efforts of the Nigerian government trying to sensitise citizens thinking of undertaking the dangerous journey. The decision of the SSA to put out this advice, according to her, was based on a video clip and pictures of Libyans capturing and ill-treating black migrants. There is no disputing the fact that Nigerians’ population in the Libyan detention camps rank among the highest. Nigerians are reputed to travel in in their thousands to Libya with the erroneous belief that Europe is just a step away.
No matter how you look at the situation, it is sad and depressing that this is happening in this modern age. It is unbelievable that the new wave of the slave trade that history is recording now is perpetrated, not by outsiders but by “brothers to brothers”.
I quite agree wholeheartedly that Arabs and Africans are not brothers. Historically Arabs are not particularly friendly to people of dark colour in normal circumstances. Now to expect them to be humane in situations where they have the freedom to do whatever they like in a country with no structure is unreasonable.
Libya is a collapsed state after the West-sponsored “revolution” ended the dictatorial reign of Muammar Ghadaffi in 2011. Ever since this, the country has been hijacked by militia groups with territorial occupation ambitions. This had rendered this once peaceful country, one of the most dangerous places to be in the world. Libya is a good example of how the West do not think through their interventions in other countries’ affairs.
The European Union deserves a major share of condemnation in what is happening to black migrants in Libya. The shameful manner the EU countries treated the migrant issue a few years ago is still fresh in our minds. The countries are desperate to keep the tide of migration across the Mediterranean Sea at the lowest. To achieve this, they have literally empowered the militias operating in Libya to act in any way they chose fit.
The Libya Coast Guards do intercept and capture migrants on the sea before they venture into the EU territory. These migrants are taken back to detention centres, where they are treated as animals, beaten, raped, tortured or kidnapped. The EU member countries hail the works of the Coast Guards and the arrests they make but none of the leaders has been human enough to ask what happens to the migrants that were sent back.
Unfortunately, they care less, as long as they do not end up on their shores. Of all the hundred migrants that escape the Libyan Coast Guards, only tens of them make it to the EU shore, while for others, their bones and skeletons have settled below the Mediterranean Sea.
We are sometimes quick in condemning these migrants who risk their lives trying for a better future. Some of them are running away from their respective countries because of oppression, poverty, joblessness, caused by their leaders’ mismanagement and corruption. While these migrants see Libya as a country without border and a route in their journey to better lives, the Libyans see them as objects of trade, to help them survive a broken system they call a country. Migration, in any circumstance, is risky, but the illegal route is fraught with dangers that guarantee no good results for the undertakers.
Let’s keep our fingers crossed as we watch what the world leaders will do to end the flourishing of the slave trade in Libya.
As published in the Sunday Vanguard of December 3, 2017.