The situation in Libya is complex and that’s part of the reason it remains so deeply unresolved.
The world is finally paying attention after an exclusive CNN report revealed a modern-day slave trade taking place in Libya. The war-torn North African nation has struggled to gain footing since long-time tyrannical leader Muammar Gaddafi was abruptly ousted, allowing inhumane practices that already existed to flourish. The images of Black bodies being presented on auction blocks could have been plucked from grade school history books, except these were in vivid color and depicted atrocities happening today.
For most of us, the last time Libya crossed our minds was in 2011, after a US-led NATO bombing led to dictator Muammar Gaddafi’s removal and death. Satisfied with another war victory, America turned its attention elsewhere, ignoring how Libya was left vulnerable to nearby terrorist groups and other threats. The UN-backed transitional government failed to institute rule of law and with no supervision or support from the countries that upended it, Libya descended into civil war. Currently, the Libyan Government of National Accord (GNA) competes with the Khalifa Haftar government, as well as groups like ISIL and al-Qaeda, which control large expanses of territory.
Roughly the size of France with plenty of ungoverned space, Libya became the main transit point to Europe by sea after the European Union began incentivizing African governments to detain migrants. Instead of deterring migrant flow, this policy forced them to travel along more dangerous smuggling routes and increased the amount of people stuck in Libya. It is estimated that between 400,000 and one million refugees, primarily from countries like Eritrea and Sudan, are currently being held in Libya. These men and women fled poverty and violence in their home countries, lured by social media posts that promised a better life. They risked everything to leave, turning over what little they had to smugglers who raped, tortured, and sold them.
There is no proper registration process for migrants arriving in Libya. The detention centers are overrun with robbery, rape, and murder among migrants, and there is no accounting for those who are taken and sold by human traffickers. When faced with the CNN report, the UN-supported GNA denounced the slave auctions and established a committee to investigate. In a statement imploring the international community for help, GNA argued that “[T]he practical solution is to address the real reasons that drive people to leave their home countries, treat them and develop final solutions for them.”
At an emergency U.N. Security Council meeting, diplomats called for an investigation into the Libyan slave trade, as well as a coordinated U.N. response to help combat the problem. French ambassador François Delattre implored the council to impose targeted sanctions on human traffickers operating in Libya. At the annual African Union and European Union summit last week, leaders agreed on an urgent evacuation plan that would remove approximately 15,000 migrants from Libya and send them back to their home countries.
None of these solutions treat the cause though. Any imposed sanctions are likely to affect the country at large, and it’s doubtful that restricting access to already limited resources will convince smugglers to clean up their act. Forcibly removed migrants will have little incentive to remain at home if they are faced with the same issues that caused them to leave in the first place.
There’s been no mention of the responsibility of social networks to develop tools to prevent smugglers from luring migrants. Facebook lauded itself for expanding to the continent of Africa as part of its mission to become a global community, but fails to bring awareness to their issues in the same way that they rally support for Western countries affected by disasters and terrorism. To affect real change, decision-makers will have to stop treating Africa like an endless well to extract resources from and invest in development that will help countries like Libya become self-sustaining. As we champion for Black lives, we cannot forget those who are still fighting for basic freedoms.
The situation in Libya is complex and that’s part of the reason it remains so deeply unresolved. Now that it has our attention, we have to commit to keeping the conversation going. Stay engaged by contacting the Congressional Black Caucus, which has an African task force, and encourage UN ambassador Nikki Haley to push for humanitarian aid and refugee relocation programs.