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The Modern Day Slave Trade 

The world began hearing of the existence of the slave trade in April 2017, when African migrants started sharing their stories with IOM staff in Niger and Libya. They quickly sounded the alarm on the existence of “Libyan slave markets.”

The recollections of migrants being sold mounted, along with stories of torture to pressure families into paying a ransom for their release.

In November 2017, CNN recorded footage showing two young men standing in the dark as an auctioneer shouts out prices, appearing to sell them for the equivalent of approximately $400 each.

Young African men bound for Europe are frequently caught in Libyan trafficking networks and sold for labor.  Additionally, up to 700,000 migrants are said to be trapped in Libya, where many are detained, tortured or even killed.


In April 2017, IOM reported the story of “SC,” who said he was extorted as soon as he reached Agadez in Niger. There, he was pressed to pay $320 to be smuggled into Libya, and this was in addition to the several thousand dollars paid when he left his home in Senegal.

After being driven to Libya, SC was “sold and bought,” he told IOM staff in Niger. He was then taken to a private home, where more than 100 migrants were held hostage, while traffickers made ransom calls to the migrants’ families. During these phone calls, migrants are reportedly beaten so their families can hear the torture and eventually pay for their release.

“The situation is dire,” Mohammed Abdiker, IOM’s Director of Operations and Emergencies, said in a statement. “Some reports are truly horrifying and the latest reports of ‘slave markets’ for migrants can be added to a long list of outrages.”

CNN went to Libya to investigate the migrant slave trade. Equipped with concealed cameras, CNN’s team recorded their own video of a dozen people going “under the hammer” at a location just outside Tripoli.

“Does anybody need a digger? This is a digger, a big strong man, he’ll dig,” the salesman, dressed in camouflage gear, said in the CNN video. “What am I bid, what am I bid?”

Buyers raise their hands as the price rises, “500, 550, 600, 650 …”  Within minutes, it is over and the men, utterly resigned to their fate, are being handed over to their new “masters,” CNN reported.

Libya has become the main gateway for people, especially African migrants attempting to reach Europe by sea.  Most refugees fleeing conflict or migrants in search of better economic opportunities have sold everything to finance the journey.


Between 30-40 patients including three ICU patients are seen in the hold of the IOM ship, Red Star I, as it makes its way out of Misrata to Benghazi. Third Country Nationals (TCN), most of whom are from Niger, were evacuated on April 27, 2011. The fifth rotation of the IOM ship evacuated mostly Nigeriens and Pakistanis. Misrata, Libya, April 2011.

“Our priority needs to be protecting these migrants and others throughout the country, while making migration through Libya safe and regular,” said Othman Belbesi, IOM Libya Chief of Mission. “One death whether in the desert or at sea is one too many.”

IOM provides a variety of relief assistance to migrants, including the rehabilitation of detention facilities, medical assistance, and humanitarian repatriation to migrants’ home countries.  We also provide human rights training to local staff and advocate for improved longer-term assistance and protection for migrants and all other groups in the country.

IOM works to warn migrants of the dangers of putting their lives in smuggler’s hands.  For migrants stranded in Libya who wish to return home, we offer them the opportunity to do so with IOM’s assistance. This year alone, IOM has assisted well over 1,000 migrants to return to their countries of origin. IOM will soon have a network of way stations and temporary shelters linking the migrant trail from Senegal to Cameroon to offer migrants similar assistance.

IOM’s assistance to stranded migrants in Libya includes:

IOM provides emergency food rations, hygiene kits which contain soap, toothbrushes and toothpaste, as well as blankets, mattresses and pillows.

IOM medical teams offer treatment and referrals, and support for local health authorities to prevent and treat communicable diseases. Additionally, we improve living, health and sanitary conditions in detention centers, including disinfection and fumigation.

Migrants rescued from the Mediterranean Sea are medically screened and referred for immediate assistance.  We inform migrants about the Humanitarian Repatriation and Reintegration program, which supports returns to countries of origin, and provide training, infrastructure and equipment to the Libyan Coast Guard at three points of disembarkation in Libya.

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