The International Organization for Migration (IOM) says that young men from North Africa migrating to Libya or Europe in search of jobs increasingly are being caught up and auctioned off as cheap labor, in what has become a booming “slave trade” in Libya.

Testimony from dozens of young men who have survived their ordeals presents a shocking and destructive picture of a slave trade operated by smugglers in Libya profiting from the misery of others.

The IOM reports that many young men — mainly from Nigeria, Ghana, Gambia, and Senegal — are targeted as potential victims when they arrive in Agadez, Niger, on their way to Libya.  

The IOM says they often pay traffickers several hundred dollars to be transported to Libya and once they arrive, they are handed over to smugglers for sale. In other cases, the IOM says, young men are kidnapped en route to their destination, held for ransom and then auctioned off to the highest bidder in Libya.

IOM Chief of Mission for Libya Othman Belbeisi says the migrants are treated as commodities to be bought and sold on the slave market.

“If a migrant is being killed, sometimes it is considered normal and many of the migrants are buried without identification. We have many families who do not know where their family members are. All they know is they left the country toward Libya or Europe or somewhere, but across the route and along the route, they do not know what has happened because there is no clear identification of those people, and many of them die and they are buried without any real identification.”  

Belbeisi tells VOA the slave trade has been going on for some time, and it has become a flourishing enterprise over the last year.  

“For example, if you go to the market and you can pay between $200 and $500 to get a migrant that will work with you on your daily jobs or support your work. Many of them escape.  Many of them are kept in bondage, and many of them are even imprisoned inside an area where they are forced to work on a daily basis,” Belbeisi says.  

The IOM says that migrants often are abused, tortured, and discarded when they have outlived their value. It says women tend to be bought by private Libyan individuals, and then brought to homes where they are forced to be sex slaves.

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