West African migrants are kidnapped and sold in Libyan slave markets

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The UN’s International Organization for Migration says that human traffickers paid to smuggle migrants out of sub-Saharan Africa are selling their "clients" to slavers in Libya, who ransom them to their families, starving them and working them to death while they wait for the money to come in.

The Libyan government collapsed after the death of dictator Muammar Gaddafi, leaving it in ever-worsening chaos with no end in sight. Many migrants pass through Libya on their way to smugglers who’ll take them into the EU.

“The men on the pick-up were brought to a square, or parking lot, where a kind of slave trade was happening. There were locals – he described them as Arabs – buying sub-Saharan migrants,” said Livia Manante, an IOM officer based in Niger who helps people wanting to return home.

She interviewed the survivor after he escaped from Libya earlier this month and said accounts of slave markets were confirmed by other migrants she spoke to in Niger and some who had been interviewed by colleagues in Europe.

“Several other migrants confirmed his story, independently describing kinds of slave markets as well as kinds of private prisons all over in Libya,” Manente said. “IOM Italy has confirmed that this story is similar to many stories reported by migrants and collected at landing points in southern Italy, including the slave market reports. This gives more evidence that the stories reported are true, as the stories of those who managed to cross-match those who are returning back to their countries.”

After his sale, the Senegalese migrant was taken to a makeshift prison of a kind that has been well documented in Libya. Those held inside are forced to work without pay, or on meagre rations, and their captors regularly call family at home demanding a ransom. His captors asked for 300,000 west African francs (about £380), then sold him on to a larger jail where the demand doubled without explanation.

Men who lingered there too long without the ransom being paid were taken away and killed, he said. Some wasted away on meagre rations in unsanitary conditions, dying of hunger and disease, but overall numbers never fell. “If the number of migrants goes down, because of death or someone is ransomed, the kidnappers just go to the market and buy one,” Manente said.

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