There’s An Anti-Slavery March In London Tomorrow – This Is Why

Since CNN released undercover footage of what appeared to be a slave auction in Libya, an anti-slavery march has been organised and a UK Parliament petition has gained more than 200,000 signatures

Anti-Slavery March In London On Saturday

by Vicky Spratt |
Published on

Since CNN released footage of people being sold in a modern-day slave market In Libyapeople have responded in outrage. There have been reports of migrants and refugees being held against their will in the country for some time, but this is the first-time footage of what can only be described as a slave auction has been captured and released.

A petition has been started on the UK Parliament websiteand is being shared widely on social media. It had 261,000 signatures at the time of writing and calls on the government to ‘put pressure on Libya to stop enslavement of Black Africans’. A demonstration has also been organised to take place on Saturday; the ‘National Anti-Slavery March’ will protest against ‘the enslaving and selling of black Africans in Libya’ outside the Libyan Embassy in Knightsbridge.

CNN’s investigation has drawn unprecedented attention to a problem that migration correspondents have been talking about for quite some time. Some have responded to the public outrage and organising of petitions and marches by sneering out of disbelief, ‘how could anyone not have known this was a problem?’ they’re asking.

The sad truth, however, is that unless you’ve been following the global migration crisis in detail over recent years you could very well not be aware of reports of people being held against their will, abused, tortured and even sold as slaves in Libya. It’s possible that you might not be aware that Libya is known as ‘the gateway to Europe’, or that the majority of people trying to get into Europe depart from Libya as they attempt to cross the Central Mediterranean, currently the main entry point into the European Union. Indeed, you might not know that people who do make this crossing do so with the help of people smugglers who take their money and pile them into boats which are often unsafe. Hundreds of people drown or go missing as they make the journey.

More than this, you might not even know that while Syrians formed the largest group of migrants crossing the Mediterranean in 2014, Eritreans formed the second largest. The refugee crisis, when it is reported on, is often talked about in terms of Syria and the war there, but this is only part of the story.

The long story is the complicated tale of what has been termed the 'greatest humanitarian crisis seen since the Second World War in Europe'. Because of wars, dictatorships (Niger, where the men who appear to be being sold in the CNN are believed to be from, has a military dictatorshipwhich is why people try to leave), environmental issues and a lack of work the last half decade or so has seen millions of undocumented people entering and attempting to enter the European Union from countries to the East and South.

Smugglers, who help people make dangerous journeys across the Sahara or Mediterranean Sea charge those who need their services. Those who cannot pay, run out of money or, perhaps, are simply unlucky may find those they have engaged to help them holding them against their will. It is this which the CNN undercover film shows.

Dr Simon McMahon, a Research Fellow at the Centre for Trust, Peace and Social Relations, told The Debrief, 'we have known about this for a long time but if the outrage, the protests and the petitions contribute to giving people a way out of the terrible situations they face in Libya then that is no bad thing.' He explained 'there have been reports for several years about the conditions in Libya. Patrick Kingsley (The Guardian's former migration correspondent) wrote his book in 2015 and, at the time, I worked on a project called 'Unravelling The Mediterranean Migration Crisis' for which a team of researchers interviewed five hundred people who crossed the Mediterranean Sea by boat from North Africa. Many of them told us about conditions which pertained to slavery.'

In the CNN footage, it appears that young men from Niger and other sub-Saharan countries are being sold to buyers for ‘farm work’ for around $400. Because European countries cannot and will not accommodate everyone trying to enter the European Union in search of work and safety, there is no organised migration system. It is this which has allowed people smugglers to thrive and flourish. Their success has also been helped by the fact that Libya has faced its own instability and chaos since former dictator, Muammar Gaddafi was overthrown in 2011 leaving what reporters at the time described as ‘a power vacuum’.

The Libyan Government of National Accord took aim at Europe in a statement responding to CNN’s footage, it said that their country ‘is going through difficult times which affected its own citizens as well. It is, therefore, not fair to assume responsibility for the consequences of this immigration, which everyone unanimously agreed that addressing this phenomenon exceeds the national capacities’.

‘We affirm again that the practical solution is to address the real reasons that drive people to leave their home countries, treat them and develop final solutions for them’, it continued. This government is a coalition which has the backing of the UN but as this BBC report shows, they don't wield real power because of armed militias which operate throughout the country. That's something to bear in mind if you're planning to march on the Libyan embassy.

Political instability in Libya and a lack of coordinated response to the refugee crisis from Europe has allowed conditions in which vulnerable people are exploited to become normal. Perhaps it’s shocking that the majority of people weren’t aware of the complex story behind CNN’s modern slavery footage but maybe that doesn’t matter? This outrage at Europe’s migration crisis is surely long overdue.

Dr McMahon told The Debrief that we should all be mindful of the fact that slavery, people smuggling and exploitation 'aren't just happening in Libya'. He said 'I've just come back from Mexico where similar things are happening. People are trying to avoid being detected by border guards which, in turn, makes them more vulnerable to smugglers.' Therein lies the rub as he sees it 'in all of these contexts we have seen an intensification of border controls but people still need to be able to make their journey, to flee from the situation they are in and so they will look for ways to move around those controls which makes them increasingly vulnerable to people who may exploit them.' For some time now, European countries on the Mediterranean like Italy have been pushing to stop people reaching their shores from Libya. This involves policing waters and imploring charities and NGOs not to rescue stranded boats. In June this year a report from Refugees International warnedthat this strategy could be 'fueling horrific abuses' of people trapped in Libya.

Why does Dr McMahon think the story of the situation in Libya has finally got people's attention on a large scale? 'I think the CNN video has made it more immediate to people, you can now see it with your own eyes and aren't relying on an academic or a journalist like me to tell you.'

'One thing that is slightly frustrating' Dr McMahon added 'is that [the French Prime Minister] Emmanuel Macron has spoken out as has the UNHCR, which is great. But these are the same people who were promoting policies that were stopping people from leaving Libya earlier this year. The problem is that migration policies are driven by responding to a crisis situation and not longer term planning and responding in ways that won't cause increased vulnerability for people'.

So, if you were wondering why people are being sold as slaves in 2017, why people are organising demonstrations about it and why you’re only just hearing about this now then perhaps the question you need to ask is this: how has this been allowed to happen? Better still, why have European governments not been helping those who have fled their homes or, at least, working to make official records and prevent the exploitation of vulnerable people by smugglers?

If you want to find out more about the refugee crisis read Patrick Kinglsey’s* *The New Odyssey or Cast Away by Charlotte McDonald Gibson

Image: Anti Slavery March in Sweden

You might also be interested in:

What Do Young Women Refugees Hope For In 2017?

'I Won't Lie, I Can't Say I'm Happy Here' What It's Like To Be A 20-Something Syrian Refugee In Germany

'The Psychological Trauma Never Leaves You' Growing Up In Britain As A Refugee

**Follow Vicky on Twitter **@Victoria_Spratt

This article originally appeared on The Debrief.

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