Nima Elbagir has long heard horror stories from migrants.
being bought and sold at Libyan slave auctions and then she witnessed one first-hand.
The CNN correspondent told As It Happens host Carol Off she first heard of practice from an Ethiopian migrant at a detention centre in Sicily three years ago.
“He described something that I almost found unbelievable — being locked into these warehouses,
having people come round to choose from amongst the migrants, being beaten and forced to work,” she said.
“And at the time I remember thinking, ‘God this sounds like something out of the 17th century. This sounds like slavery.”
There is indeed modern-day slavery happening in Libya, and three years later, Elbagir would see it up close and personal: men being auctioned off for as little as $500 US.
It started when one of CNN’s sources in Libya sent the news organization a video of a slave auction.
“It sounds ridiculous for someone who puts together words for a living, but I found it undescribable,” Elbagir said.
“I don’t think I’ll ever be able to genuinely do justice to what it felt like to watch that video,
because your brain almost suspends disbelief because it feels like you’re watching a film.”
She and her colleagues decided to travel to Libya to investigate further.
Network of slavery
What they found mirrors what the International Organization for Migration detailed in a report earlier this year
that hundreds of African migrants are being forced into slavery by the human smugglers who brought them to the country in the first place.
The migrants — mostly from Nigeria, Senegal and Gambia
flee conflict and economic instability, hoping to make the treacherous journey from Libya across the Mediterranean into Europe.
But due to a crackdown by Libyan coast guard, many end up stuck waiting in cramped warehouses, branded by smugglers as “an excess in merchandise.”
Some are held as hostages until their families pay ransom, while others are sold out for labour.
“It’s a way for the smugglers to make money off an available resource,” Elbagir said.
The auction block
The auctions, Elbagir said, are organized by word of mouth with trusted contacts only.
“We were able to find someone who at great, great risk was willing to bring us along,” she said.
She and her colleagues were led to the back of a warehouse outside Tripoli, where they watched and recorded as 12 men were sold to the highest bidder.
“What really struck me at the time was first of all how fast it all happened. Within minutes it felt like these people had been sold,” Elbagir said.