After a video showing a slave auction in Libya was posted online by American media CNN in November, Libya was forced to confront the shameful practices going on in the country. The FRANCE 24 Observers team received a number of messages from people saying that they had been victims of human trafficking, including a Guinean man who has now returned to live in Conakry, Guinea. This is his witness report.
The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) estimates that there are between 700,000 and 1 million migrants in Libya. Migrant trafficking is the second most lucrative job one can have in the country, after the smuggling of petrol, and represents between 5 and 10 percent of the country’s GDP.
In the first part of this two-part report, our Observer, a 22-year-old Guinean, describes his hellish experience in Libya. In the second part, he describes his terrifying and desperate escape.
Ousmane K., a 22-year-old Guinean, was sold into slavery in Libya in the summer of 2016.
Our Observer wasn’t there when the transaction was made. He thinks he was sold to his prison guard along with all the other migrants in his group. People who buy migrants then make money by blackmailing the family of the migrant. The family must buy the freedom of the migrant – and if they don’t have the money, the victim will be tortured.
In Bani Walid, at least two Libyan organizations try to work with and take care of illegal migrants who have suffered torture, slavery and forced prostitution. The organization Al-Salam deals with the ‘migrant graveyard’ – a piece of land where they bury around 25 to 30 bodies every month: the corpses of migrants that have been left on the roadside.
A local dignitary, Alhusain Khire, manages a refuge for migrants that have escaped from prisons, called the Hotel Ivoire. He makes sure the migrants are safe and brings in humanitarian and medical teams for check-ups. For a report by French media France 2, he explained that the people who manage these illegal migrant prisons are well established in the town, so the only thing he is able to do is to give humanitarian help to these people once they have escaped.
"A friend had managed to hide a little mobile phone with him, so I was able to warn my family about where I was. One of the guards found out, started firing into the air, and then made us all stand in a line. He wanted us to tell him who had the phone. We refused to, and he hit us; some of us were electrocuted. Then the person who had the phone owned up. He was beaten", our observer continued.
"The guards said that we had to wait there before we could leave to go to Sabratah [a coastal town around 200 kilometers north-west of Bani Walid, and the departure point for getting to Italy]. They called us one by one, told us, ‘It’s fine, you’re going to be able to leave’, but then they put us all in one room, made us call our parents and then tortured us at the same time, so that we would beg our families to pay the ransom. I wasn’t tortured because my parents immediately agreed to pay 1,500 dollars [around 1,200 euros]. I was one of the few that was able to get out of it.
My entire family worked to get together the money. My father borrowed a lot of money from his friends and neighbors.
Those who had paid the ransom were slightly more privileged than other prisoners. We became the kind of assistants to the guards and we had the right to a little bit more food than the others – essentially rice with a bit of salt. I was the assistant to a Chadian guard."
In Libya, migrants’ mobile phones are always taken away from them. Our Observer wasn’t able to document what he experienced. Once he returned to Conakry, he found the Facebook profile of one of the guards, another Guinean man. The guard had posted this photo on his profile (which has since been deleted), showing him posing with the director of the prison, a man known as Abdulkarim.