Letter to the Editor: African migrants being auctioned in Libya
And Now African Migrants Auctioned in Libya. What’s Next?
Over the last few days, my phone got filled with video footages, showing African migrants detained in Libyan concentration camps, where they’ve been auctioned for daily labor, beaten, and worked to death. One video shows an African migrant lain on his stomach on a single bed, legs tied at the ankles with a rope, arms tied around his back. Bleeding immensely from torture, he can barely murmur a word to beg a respite. His abductor, a Caucasian, yells at him in a mix of broken English and Spanish, “look in the camera!” Thus, telling him to ask his relatives back in Africa, watching the scene live, to send money to ransom him, or else he would be slaughtered.
Such scenes have been happening recently in coastal Libya, and some have called it “modern slavery.”
Sites of concentration camps in coastal Lybia. (From France 2 TV’s report, “Esclavage et vente de Noirs en Lybie”).
Many such videos landed on Facebook, but most of what reached my phone came via WhatsApp. That’s because, like many Senegalese immigrants in the US, I am part of transnational WhatsApp groups created as networking platforms to connect Senegalese in Europe, Africa, and the Americas with home (Senegal). Members of these groups have been very alarmed with the horrendous torture of Africans in Libya, not just because they’re reminded of their vulnerability as immigrants, but also because their own people subjected to utmost abjection.
A migrant being massaged after 6-month torture by Libyan abductors (From France 2 TV’s report, “Esclavage et vente de Noirs en Lybie”).
On Nov. 19, a CNN report, showing evidence of black people auctioned in Tripoli, triggered a protest among African immigrants in front of Libya’s embassy in France. In a statement issued after the rally, Chairman of the African Union Commission, Moussa Faki Mahamat, called the auctions “despicable” and resolved to “dispatch an envoy to Libya for consultations with the Government of Libya and other stakeholders.” Several African governments have summoned Libyan ambassadors in their respective countries and urged for an official investigation.
What’s going on in Libya today is indeed beyond qualification! The world watches its darkest history episode repeat. The auctioning of black bodies in coastal Libya reminds of slavery, the scars of which still fresh in the Black-Atlantic consciousness. Slavery, as a once legalized commodification of the black body, was driven by a thirst for capital. A capital constituting, in a sad way, the financial tapestry of our modern market economy. Today, the same global-scale capitalist rush for profit – and its ensuing (geo)political hypocrisies – have degenerated into Nato-led chaotic post-Qaddafi Libya, where de facto statelessness makes permissible barbarities like human auctioning.
While Libya’s modern-slavery episode is quite unprecedented in pattern, its real causes are not. They are what had originated and sustained the ignominious triangular trade a few centuries ago: The cannibalistic exploitation of Africa, its resources, and people by Western imperialist governments. This exploitation has taken neocolonial forms today, effected through collaboration with Africa’s patrimonialist regimes. Consequence: desperate young Africans flee their conflict-ridden and starved homelands towards an imaginary Eldorado where, now, they’re unwanted. On their way, they even face a deadly trap set against them by the same European predator.
A recent New York Times report reads, “The Italian government reportedly began paying the warlords controlling Libya’s coast to curb the flow of migrants earlier this year.” Like slave overseers in the plantation, Libyan warlords used all sort of violence, not just to force off immigration flux, but also to extort money from their negro-African preys. By last August alone, “the arrivals of migrants in Italy fell 85 percent.”
Such allegations against Italy are serious! They provide ground for questioning how European government decisions may have led directly to the killing and enslaving of Africans in Libya.
Mostly because the so-called “illegal” African migration by sea or by land – via the Atlantic Ocean or the Sahara Desert – is not new. In West Africa, for example, it dates back, at least, to the mid-1990s, when candidates from Senegal, Guinea, etc., on-board rickety fishing boats, floated the Atlantic towards mainland Spain, transiting via the Canary Islands.
Transaharan Migration routes toward the Libya transit point (From France 2 TV’s report, “Esclavage et vente de Noirs en Lybie”).
Between 2005 and 2007, over 50,000 Senegalese boat migrants had reached Spain, although more than 4,065 got deported back. Libya – as well as Morocco, Mauritania, Algeria, etc. – had always been their transit points. But never did we witness the capture and auctioning of black African emigrants, although negrophobia has been rampant in that part of the continent. With this history in the background, the allegation against Italy must be taken seriously. Any direct roles that Italy – or France, Spain – may have in these Libya crimes need investigated and measures effectively taken.
Samba Camara, PhD
Teaching Assistant Professor,
The University of North Carolina at Chapel HillShare: