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The Slave Trade in Libya | Hannah Musgrave

The Slave Trade in Libya

by Hannah Musgrave

Fleeing from extreme poverty and repression in the sub-Sahara, these people sought out refuge in Europe. The journey there demands travel through Libya, where people are captured by smugglers and are sold as slaves. This Libyan government-run immigrant detention center has thousands of people in it—so many that they do not have enough room, food, or supplies for all. In this center, migrants exploited by smugglers recount horrific tales of forced labor and inhumane conditions. A group of CNN reporters went to the detention camp and spoke with the inhabitants, one of which, 29-year-old Ali Jemma from Ghana, says that, although six months ago he had hoped for freedom in Europe, now he just wishes to go home. Home to the awful place from which he first fled—but it can’t be worse than this.

In an article by The Root, Yodit, a native Eritrean who had firsthand experience with the slave trade, reported the Libyan slave trade has been going on for years. Luckily she did not get caught in the system and lives here safely in Dallas, but she describes what her four cousins are going through as they seek refugee from Eritrea: “People make deals with smugglers,” she said. “My cousin was assured that [he’d be safe]. The problem is, these smugglers sell them to someone else. You’re lucky if you aren’t sold three or four times. A lot of times, you’re kidnapped or tortured. Sexual exploitation is a given.” The Root gives more details. “Smugglers have been known to force young girls to take contraceptives before the journey, since it is expected that they will be raped multiple times during the trip.” She also describes how one of her cousins (age 16) was detained by slave traders that called her family for a $5,000 ransom. When they hesitated to offer the ransom, the slave traders broke the young boy’s arm and called back demanding the money. To this the family agreed and paid, hoping that the slave traders would keep their word. They did, and her cousin eventually made it to Europe along with one of her other cousins, and the other two were supposedly sent back to Sudan. But no one has heard from them for over five years.

This is all upsetting and difficult to look past, but a lot of people will; they will acknowledge that it is a difficult situation and then move on with their day. But people have been looking past this for too long. There has been no widespread public reaction or acknowledgement of this global issue until recently, and the worst part is that the U.S. and its actions were part of the reason this started. In 2011, then-president Obama ordered a bombing campaign to overthrow Muammar Gaddafi because he was a non-democratic dictator. Although he was a dictator, he was “a staunch advocate for African unity and Pan-Africanism ”(The Root). He constantly pushed against the anti-black racism in the Arab community and for unity throughout the country. While being ousted, Gaddafi was killed, and now awful things are happening in Libya with no one having means to stop them.

In the article, Tewolde gave advice on how to react and help the situation. “Reach out to the CBC,” Tewolde said. “The Congressional Black Caucus has an African task force; they should be on this. Keep the conversation going.” She also advised the public to send emails and make calls to the United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley to push for humanitarian aid and refugee relocation programs.


  1. Johnson, Jason. “How Obama’s ‘Worst Mistake’ Led to the Libyan Slave Trade“. The Root. 30 November 2017.

  2. Razek, Raja. “‘They don’t know my name’: What it’s like to be trapped inside Libya’s government detention centers“. CNN. 14 November 2017.

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