Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Hundreds of migrants under "slave market" conditions in North Africa, UN agency says

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) on Tuesday warned that hundreds of migrants are being held under "slave market" conditions in North Africa, UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters at UN headquarter.

"Describing the situation as 'dire,' the agency reported that hundreds of Sub-Saharan migrants bound for Libya are being sold and bought by Libyans with the support of Ghanaians and Nigerians who work for them," Dujarric said at a daily news briefing here.

Over the past week, the agency has also learned of several cases in which migrants have been kidnapped in exchange for ransom, the spokesman noted.

"The agency is raising awareness across Africa of these dangers by highlighting testimonies from migrants on local radio stations and social media," he said.

Operations officers with IOM's office in Niger reported on the rescue of a Senegalese migrant who this week was returning to his home after being held captive for months.

According to the young man's testimony, while trying to travel north through the Sahara, he arrived in Agadez, Niger, where he was told he would have to pay about 320 US dollars to continue north, toward Libya.

A trafficker provided him with accommodation until the day of his departure, which was to be by pick-up truck.

When his pick-up reached Sabha in southwestern Libya, the driver insisted that he hadn't been paid by the trafficker, and that he was transporting the migrants to a parking area where the young man witnessed a slave market taking place.

"The latest reports of'slave markets' for migrants can be added to a long list of outrages (in Libya)," said Mohammed Abdiker, IOM's head of operation and emergencies. "The situation is dire. The more IOM engages inside Libya, the more we learn that it is a vale of tears for all too many migrants."

Abdiker said that in recent months IOM staff in Libya had gained access to several detention centers, where they are trying to improve conditions.

"What we know is that migrants who fall into the hands of smugglers face systematic malnutrition, sexual abuse and even murder," he said. "Last year we learned 14 migrants died in a single month in one of those locations, just from disease and malnutrition. We are hearing about mass graves in the desert."

He said so far this year, the Libyan Coast Guard and others have found 171 bodies washed up on Mediterranean shores, from migrant voyages that foundered off shore. The Coast Guard has also rescued thousands more, he added.

"Migrants who go to Libya while trying to get to Europe, have no idea of the torture archipelago that awaits them just over the border," said Leonard Doyle, chief IOM spokesman in Geneva. "There they become commodities to be bought, sold and discarded when they have no more value."

Many describe being sold "in squares or garages" by locals in the southwestern Libyan town of Sabha, or by the drivers who trafficked them across the Sahara desert.

"To get the message out across Africa about the dangers, we are recording the testimonies of migrants who have suffered and are spreading them across social media and on local FM radio," Doyle said. "Tragically, the most credible messengers are migrants returning home with IOM help. Too often they are broken, brutalized and have been abused, often sexually. Their voices carry more weight than anyone else's."

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