Is slavery in Libya the direct result of EU and US failed foreign policy?

The auctioning of slaves we witnessed with CNN’s recent investigation is just the tip of a huge iceberg of human rights violations in Libya. The trade of human lives been happening for years now, not just in Libya, but also in the lawless land of Sinai, Egypt. Humans have been sold from one trafficker to another for a price tag ranging from hundreds of dollars to thousands, and many have been priced at tens of thousands for their release. For those who could not pay the price, their organs were taken to be sold to wealthy countries in the Middle East. This shameful act has been going on since 2009; many have died in the hands of smugglers. In Libya, the crisis has been exacerbated since the fall of long-time dictator Muammar Gaddafi in 2011. 


Getty Images: Libyan militia’s treatment of African migrants 

African leaders are heavily responsible for creating this outpouring of refugees and mass migration, and I believe it is the failure of Western foreign policy intervention that has led to this rampant inhumane treatment of people who are at the behest of traffickers. Ever since NATO and its allies ousted Gaddafi, the country has been ungoverned and run by factions of militias; the case of Libya can be defined as one of the greatest failures of foreign intervention in the 21st century. Even former US President Barack Obama has repeatedly admitted that action taken in Libya was his worst mistake while in office. Even various factions in Libya who played their part in getting rid Gaddafi are regretting how the situation has played out as they struggle to form a coalition. 

 


Getty Images: Life inside Libya's prison cells

Every year, EU nations come together to find an end to the migration crisis flooding to their borders. But the approach they have taken, which curbs refugees from making trips across the Mediterranean, has only exacerbated the rampant slave trade. As part of the investment made by EU, African countries also started to deport refugees to their home country. Such was the fate of 100 Eritrean refugees that were deported to Eritrea in 2016 by Sudanese forces, in violation of international refugee laws. The Sudanese government has received financial support from EU nations as part of the plan to deter refugees from making the trip north. 

Some of these migrants and refugees have been sold multiple times; this has a direct impact on those African migrants living in the diaspora both financially and emotionally. This issue has been part of our day to day struggle. We have family members and friends escaping through the Libyan route. People in the diaspora spend sleepless weeks not knowing the whereabouts of their family members during the journey.

The abusive treatment, rape and slave auctioning have been known facts for more than a decade, which raises the question, why has it not received the necessary attention for so long? For years, families in their home countries and in the diaspora alike have been paying the heavy price of money and trauma to see their loved ones seek better lives abroad.


Getty Images: Protesting the slave trade in Libya

Before making the journey through Libya, women have resorted to taking birth control to avoid getting pregnant, knowing the high chances of getting raped by Libyan militias who play an active role in the smuggling business. In 2015, we all witnessed the beheading of 30 North African refugees by so called Islamic State in Libya. Before CNN shed light on this issue, there were several videos and exposés showing the worst forms of human treatment in Libyan prisons. All of this cruelty went unreported despite the watchful eyes of the world. One can only imagine how many lives have been lost . It is believed that tens of thousands are still in this similar situation as we speak. What will it take for their release?

Generational Change

Every year about 10 million African youth are entering the work force, however with little opportunity in the job market. Similarly, many African nations continue to be ruled by older men with dictatorial approaches, who continue to cling to power with an old mentality of leadership. Those leaders, having direct power over their militaries, continue to crush any rise for change by the younger generation. Very few African countries are heading towards democracy; they desperately need new leadership approaches and young people have to be given the opportunity to preside over these changes. The only alternative is to snatch the torch from the older generation forcefully which, more often than not, doesn’t go to plan. So, before embarking in a new wave of change, we need to have a plan in place.

The countries where refugees are fleeing from include Eritrea, Ethiopia, Sudan, Chad, South Sudan, Somalia, Nigeria, Gambia, Zambia, Niger, DRC among others. Why? Because they are not safe places for young people and offer no opportunity for empowerment. This makes the need for change inevitable and a must for African countries. The time for leadership change in Africa is way over due. We need young and vibrant minds to replace our aging leaders.  

Meron Semedar is a One Young World Ambassador from Eritrea, who is passionate about addressing the current human rights situation in his home country and the rest of the world. He is also the Founder of Lead Eritrea (Where Eritrean Youth Start Leading) and Refugee Student Association.