BY JOHNPAUL AMAECHI
It came as a rude shock to many in Nigeria as many whose relatives had supposedly travelled to Europe using the Libyan route have expressed deep apprehension about what could have happened to their loved ones.
The keep making calls and searching the internet to see if they could see photos of the persons being tortured to know if their relatives could be identified in any of such photos.
Pictures have flood the internet showing young black men being treated like animals and a Cable News Network (CNN) investigation produced footage of West Africans being sold at slave markets in November.
Reports emanating from Libya say thousands of African migrants passing through Libya apparently to Europe are being bought and sold in modern-day slave markets before being held for ransom or used as forced labour or for sexual exploitation.
Survivors have told gory tales of how people are bought for between $200 and $500 and are held for two to three months.
Many of the migrants, according to the International Organisation for Migrants, are from Nigeria, Senegal and The Gambia – are captured as they head north towards Libya’s Mediterranean coast, where they try to catch boats for Italy.
It was gathered that heading to the northern part of the Libya to the Mediterranean coast is not an easy venture, along the way, migrants prey to an array of armed groups and a networks people dealing in human trade.
These armed groups and human traders often try to extort extra money from the migrants in exchange before allowing them to continue.
Most of the migrants are used as day labourers in construction or agriculture outfits. Some are paid but others are forced to work for no money.
The most shocking part of the story is how women, badly treated, most of them were raped and while some were forced into prostitution.
A Senegalese migrant who was held in a Libyan’s private house in Sabha with about 100 others, have given a sordid account of how fellow migrants were beaten as they called their families to ask for money.
The Senegalese who was identified as SC said he was bought by another Libyan, who set a new price for his release.
Some of those who cannot pay their captors are reportedly killed or left to starve to death.
According to SC’s testimony, while trying to travel north through the Sahara, he arrived in Agadez, Niger, where he was told he would have to pay 200,000 CFA (about USD 320) to continue north, towards Libya. A trafficker provided him with accommodation until the day of his departure, which was to be by pick-up truck.
When his pick-up reached Sabha in southwestern Libya, the driver insisted that he hadn’t been paid by the trafficker, and that he was transporting the migrants to a parking area where SC witnessed a slave market taking place.
He said: “Sub-Saharan migrants were being sold and bought by Libyans, with the support of Ghanaians and Nigerians who work for them.”
SC described he was ‘bought’ and then brought to his first ‘prison’, a private home where more than 100 migrants were held as hostages.
He said the ‘slave masters’ made the migrants who were thoroughly beaten to call their families back home, and often suffered beatings while on the phone so that their family members could hear them being tortured. In order to be released from this first house, SC was asked to pay 300,000 CFA (about USD 480), which he couldn’t raise. He was then ‘bought’ by another Libyan, who brought him to a bigger house – where a new price was set for his release: 600,000 CFA (about USD 970), to be paid via Western Union or Money Gram to a receiver identified as ‘Alhadji Balde’, said to be in Ghana.
It was a pure slave system, he said, because when migrants die or are released, others are purchased to replace them.
A Nigerian who was identified as Victory and was caught in this dilemma confessed that he was sold, “after I was sold the people that bought me demanded for ransom and the man that brought me from Nigeria, I already gave him that money but he did not pay. They now said that since he did not pay they started beating and went through this for eight months before they could free me.
“They flogged us with electric wires and gave us all kinds of torture, they even used sharp object to insert in our anus , in fact all kinds of torture.
“Some of us have died, those who cannot withstand this, they have died and people dying here is nothing to them and people dying have not stopped them.”
As Victory was speaking he broke down and wept, remembering some of his friends who have died in the hands of the Libyan slave master.
It was gathered that migrants are buried without being identified, while families back home remain uncertain of their fate.
“The situation is dire,” Mohammed Abdiker, of the International Organisation of Migrants (IOM) who recently returned from a visit to Tripoli, said in a statement, calling Libya a “valley of tears” for many refugees and migrants.
“What we know is that migrants who fall into the hands of smugglers face systematic malnutrition, sexual abuse and even murder,” he added.
In 2016, he said, 14 migrants died in a single month in one of those locations, just from disease and malnutrition and were buried in a mass grave in the desert.
The United States Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said: “To see the pictures of these men being treated like cattle, and to hear the auctioneer describe them as, quote, ‘big strong boys for farm work,’ should shock the conscience of us all.”
France’s ambassador to the UN has urged the Security Council to impose sanctions on the people involved in Libya’s slave trade of African refugees and migrants.
Francois Delattre’s comments come as human trafficking in Libya has become a burning topic since a CNN investigation produced footage of West Africans being sold at slave markets in November.
“France will propose to assist the sanctions committee … in identifying responsible individuals and entities for trafficking through Libyan territory,” he told the council on Tuesday.