The Horrors of the Libyan Slave Trade

Everything you need to know about the migrant slave trade in Libya

Refugees at the Libyan border (David Ramos, Getty Images)
What’s going on in Libya?

In 2017, a video of two men being sold at an auction in Libya began to circulate online, prompting CNN to begin their investigation in the Libyan slave trade.

Thousands of refugees flock to Libya annually in hopes of making it to Europe, searching for economic opportunities or safety from conflict. However, the Libyan coastguard — with financial aid from the European Union — cracked down on refugee smugglers, creating an excess of migrants and not enough boats for them.

With estimates of 400,000 to almost one million people now bottled up Libya, detention centers are overrun and there are mounting reports of robbery, rape, and murder among migrants… [M]igrants are vulnerable to being sold off as laborers in slave auctions.

Casey Quackenbush (TIME)

Many refugees find themselves indebted to the smuggles; those who cannot pay for their way to Europe are sold into slavery as a way to pay back their debt. Migrants are often ransomed back to their families. While waiting for the ransom to be paid back, migrants are tortured and forced to work. If the ransom amount cannot be paid on time, the slaves are either killed or left to starve to death.

Children have also been forced into the slave trade. UNICEF released a report in 2017 with detailed stories of suffering and sexual abuse from children who attempted or succeeded at crossing the Mediterranean. Private clients have bought migrant women to be sex slaves.

Though CNN only uncovered this plot a few years ago, Libyan aid groups have reported that this issue had been ongoing several years prior.

How has the Libyan government responded to this crisis?

Although the Libyan government has reportedly launched an investigation into the slave trade, the country has been deeply impacted by civil war. Because of the country’s political turmoil, the government has failed to bring any kind of order to the country, and laws have remained largely unenforced. Libya will be unable to resolve this problem by itself.

Fortunately, Libya has taken steps to working with the international community.

Libya reached a deal with E.U. and African leaders to allow the emergency repatriation of refugees and migrants facing abuse in its detention centers. The government also agreed to open a transit center for vulnerable refugees after months of negotiations…intended to safely house people before they are resettled.

Casey Quackenbush (TIME)

UNICEF has urged Libya and its neighboring countries to work together to help the refugees and stop human trafficking.

What can you do to help?
  • Stay informed. If you want to learn more about this issue, take a look at our sources at the bottom of this article, and do your own research.
  • Pressure the UN to focus on this issue. You can write a message to the United States Mission to the United Nations here.
  • Support organizations that are fighting human trafficking around the globe. The International Organization For Migration has worked in Libya to protect refugees’ rights. Additionally, you can donate to Free the Slaves, End Slavery Now, and the Polaris Project.
  • Spread the word. Tell people you know about the ongoing crisis in Libya. Post on social media. As more people learn about the Libyan slave trade, we can work together to fight injustice.

Adams, Paul. “Libya Exposed as an Epicentre for Migrant Child Abuse.” BBC News, BBC, 28 Feb. 2017,

“African Migrants Sold in Libya ‘Slave Markets’, IOM Says.” BBC News, BBC, 11 Apr. 2017,

Elbagir, Nima, et al. “People for Sale: Where Lives Are Auctioned for $400.” CNN, Cable News Network, 15 Nov. 2017,

Friedmann, Sarah. “How To Help Stop Libya’s Slave Trade & Fight Slavery Around The World.” Bustle, Bustle, 28 Nov. 2017,

Quackenbush, Casey. “Libyan Slave Trade: Here’s What You Need to Know.” Time, Time, 1 Dec. 2017,

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.