The current state of Libya is what happens when the future is bleak for youths and they are desperate for new opportunities, according to Ali Dinar, a senior lecturer in the Department of African Studies at the University of Pennsylvania.
“We have to condemn the failure of the African government and the international community,” Dinar, who is originally from Sudan, told The Philadelphia Tribune on Friday afternoon. “It’s the failure of the African government in securing and providing a better future for these youths. That is what pushes them away.”
The Northern Africa nation that borders the Mediterranean Sea has been an exit point for refugees fleeing the troubles in their homelands. Thousands of migrants and refugees from the Middle East and mostly from sub-Sahara Africa have landed there as they seek passage to Europe in hopes of finding a better life.
Humanitarian and United Nations agencies have reported that thousands of migrants are living in squalid camps in Libya, where the living conditions are described as “inhumane.”
The International Organization for Migration said more than 423,000 migrants had been identified in Libya, where the majority are men from impoverished sub-Saharan African countries.
Europe has tried to stop the flow of migrants from Africa. However, the lack of unemployment, violence or other conditions have left many without a choice but to make the dangerous trek across the Mediterranean Sea, where at least 3,000 have drowned or have gone missing annually in attempted crossings.
The depth of the misery hit a new humanitarian chord recently as there is a renewed urgency to help the migrants after videos surfaced showing slave auctions in Libya. The ongoing problem has only been heightened since the fall of Libya’s former dictator Muammar Gaddafi in 2011 and various factions, including Islamic State extremists, controlling swaths of the country, some experts say.
“This is something that has been going on for a while, but it has never been in the media as it should of been until CNN reported it,” Dinar said. “What is happening in Libya is after the collapse of the regime and the government there, along with the presence of ISIS. Nothing is new, but now, the focus and interest is in following this kind of trail of abuse and a new way of exposing it.”
Eileen Ryan, an assistant professor in the Department of History at Temple University, said with the downfall of the Gaddafi regime, which came to power in 1969, the lid was lifted off of a problem that he had been containing during his nearly 50-year rule.
“When you saw people trying to cross the Mediterranean it was because the system Gaddafi had put in place broke down,” said Ryan, adding the chaos intensified after Gaddafi was slain by his captors and the system he had in place broke down. “When Gaddafi was holding immigrants in camps, they were prevented from leaving.”
African refugees have been making their way to Europe, but all are not welcome. They also must compete for support and aid with Middle East refugees from war-torn Syria, which has seen millions flee since the unrest and ensuing civil war began in 2011.
Ryan says its seems as though the African migrants are welcomed as long as they are seen as temporarily visitors.
“I think something changes when migrants stay in one place and put down roots,” said Ryan, who has studied Mediterranean region, that includes Italy and Libya, as well as imperialism, colonialism and fascism. “I think a lot of people see that as a threat.”
The selling of people is not supposed to be part of the system, but it seems a part of an illicit market of human trafficking, Ryan said.
Free the Slaves, an organization that fights slavery, said it had freed 13,000 people from bondage since 2000, noting that tens of millions are trapped in modern-day slavery.
“I think what is really important to understand about this are the root causes that result in these instances of men ending up on the slave market,” said Maurice Middleberg, the executive director of Free the Slaves, based in Washington, D.C. “The solution to this is not about trying to shut down one market, because it’s hardly unique by any means.”
His group notes that slavery is the result of vulnerability.
Lack of awareness of rights and risks, absence or weakness of protective organizations, household insecurity, inadequate legal protection and survivor vulnerability are all situations that can lead to slavery, Middleberg said.
“A lot of Africans want to seek a better life in Europe, so there’s a lot of people and [criminal] organizations that promise these youth a good life and they have to give them money,” said Dinar, who added that failure to pay often results in beating or migrants making the crossing are put in boats without safeguards.
“Some of these people have their rights being violated and are being kept as prisoners and tortured so that their families will pay ransom and that is not new with regard to immigrants. It’s vulnerable youth,” Dinar said.
Between 400,000 and 700,000 African migrants are stranded in camps in Libya, according to Moussa Faki Mahamat, chairman of the African Union Commission.
Identifying the communities, villages or neighborhoods that are most vulnerable to exploitation and trafficking is key, Middleberg said, followed by implementing strategies such as educating and mobilizing communities, ensuring basic access and services and strengthening laws and law enforcement services.
“It’s, indeed, a complicated problem,” Middleberg said. “So simplistic solutions are not going to work.”
Chad Lassiter, a professor who specializes in race relations, said Libya was earmarked for destruction because it did not do the bidding of Western powers and their endless war lobbying.
“The cause of this destruction is the French government, (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) NATO and the Western elites who will attempt to whitewash this with NATO friendly media,” said Lassiter, who is president of Black Men at Penn School of Social Work Inc. at the University of Pennsylvania. “We know this is a crime against humanity but other than an evacuation plan and international assistance, whose going to be brought to justice for these war crimes?”
On Friday, President Donald Trump met with Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj of Libya. A commitment to helping the Libyan people realize a more stable, unified and prosperous future was a topic of their discussion, according to the White House.
“I honestly cannot find the way to articulate my feelings and my anger for the lack of attention being paid to this issue from the federal government,” said state Rep. Jordan Harris. “Knowing the history of slavery in America and the enslavement of Africans here in America, it baffles my mind as to why there’s not more attention paid to this from our federal government.”
Harris says the Pennsylvania Legislative Black Caucus, which he leads, will be looking to see if the state has any investments with Libya, and if so the caucus will ask for those relationships to be severed until the situation there is rectified.