“[They were] abusing us, raping us, killing us, selling us” “It was as if we weren’t human” – a West African on her experience in Libya written by Time.
In my first article of the Black lives truly matter series, I clamored for the safety and dignity of Black lives amidst other Africans both in Africa and non-African countries. The torture, discrimination and violence Blacks go through because of other Africans are extremely heinous. If Black lives matter anywhere, they certainly do not in Libya.
Libya is located in North Africa with its citizens mostly Arabs which is neither black nor white. In fact, most Libyans prefer to associate themselves with whites rather than blacks. Their resentment towards blacks is fully exhibited in their racist and slave-like treatment of blacks.
Evidences and stories from slavery survivors and organizations like International Organization for Migration (IOM) remind the world that slavery still exists and in fact, thrives in Libya.
The slaves in Libya are migrants from all over Africa, mostly West Africa trying to get to Europe in search of better opportunities. According to a Human Trafficking report by the US embassy in Libya, the country had over 600,000 migrants in 2018.
In their home countries, these migrants met smugglers who promised to take them to Europe by road and then sea with little fee or no fee at all. These migrants grabbed the ‘opportunity’; sold their properties, borrowed funds and did just about anything to raise finance for their journey.
The journey is filled with days in the Sahara Desert, without food, water and sleep. From one border to another, many lose their lives from bandits’ attacks, starvation or sickness. On the Mediterranean Sea which connects to Europe to Africa, IOM reports that every year from 2014 to 2017, at least 3,000 migrants and refugees died.
However before reaching the Mediterranean Sea is Libya and for most migrants, Libya is the endpoint of their journey to Europe but also the beginning of a new life of slavery.
Slavery in Libya
Migrants hoping to cross the Sea have to wait in Libya to make proper plans as there are militias, rebels and only few boats make it out to the Sea. In the process, they are moved from private slave camps to private slave prisons to detention centers where they are exploited, sold and abused. Some of them are branded with the crudest tools anyone can imagine: like hot metal burnished into their cheeks and chest. Some are bought purposely to be used for weapon testing. The migrants become trapped with their smugglers who later become masters, and they become slaves. The migrants (now slaves) can be sold anytime to anybody including a Black slave master.
This operation looks like a covert one but it’s not. In fact, a CNN coverage reveals that there are broad day slave markets and auctions in up to 9 different places in Libya where Blacks are sold as construction or sex laborers for as low as $400.
It is crucial to note that racism against Blacks from Arabs in Libya is not just a xenophobic dilemma as even Black Libyans are discriminated against in their own country. These are citizens of Libya not migrants. But because they are Black, they are socially excluded; face violence and attacks from their non-blacks neighbors.
Racism in Libya has historical roots in its governance and past ruling system. For many years, the country has been in chaos, disorder and violence. Despite these, thousands of Africans still attempt to travel to Europe through Libya. The pains and problems they try to escape from in their home countries by fleeing to Europe become even a better option compared to the torment in Libya. For instance, in 2017, over 8,000 migrants preferred to return home after facing so much torture in Libya, according to IOM.
In most cases, the governments of West African countries are unable to do much. IOM has helped relocate hundreds of stranded migrants back to their different countries. However, hundreds are still left in Libya living in unspeakably inhuman conditions.
Black on Black discrimination in Libya
Amidst racism against Blacks in Libya, other Blacks have also been found supporting these slave traders. Truly, a Black slave trade business cannot work without the help of other Blacks. In fact, Black Africans work hand-in-hand with Libyans (Arabs) to smuggle, torture and trade other Blacks.
This shows racism in Libya is more than a color problem. It has become a lifestyle even for non-Libyans. In their home countries, Black smugglers make promises to other Blacks for a better life in Europe and instead sell them upon reaching Libya.
Black lives must matter for it to matter
How can Black lives matter to non-blacks if they do not matter to fellow Africans first? Unless Africans show respect for one another’s lives; unless Black lives matter to blacks in all black countries, the slogan “Black Lives Matter” will remain a mere slogan without any lasting bite. It is commendable that Nigerians and others in sub-Sahara Africa joined in the protests against the murder of Black American George Floyd, but it is totally immoral that the mass murder and enslavement of Black Africans in Libya goes on without any protest in sub-Sahara Africa. Black lives must matter everywhere.