Photograph — Al Jazeera

Victory, a 21 year old young man from Edo state, Nigeria was a victim of slavery in Libya. Foka Fotsi, from Cameroon was a victim of slavery in Libya. Christelle Tindi, who watched her boyfriend die after he fell overboard on the ship transporting them, is also a victim. People become victims when they are exploited.

After reports emerged that thousands of African migrants are being sold and purchased in Libya as slaves, many Africans are returning to tell tales of woe and trauma, stories of how their lives will never remain the same. Many of these migrants were in Libya planning to cross into Europe through the Mediterranean, but were instead deceived by middlemen and smugglers who sold them, often for as low as $400 each. This news has generated outrage around the world with celebrities and African presidents condemning the barbaric act. The United Nations says it has already begun investigations into the matter.

…but who is truly to be blamed?

African governments have been blamed for these migration problems, and rightly so. The inability of these governments to provide basic amenities for their citizens, in addition to the open borders caused by insecurity due to the rise of terrorism in sub-Saharan Africa, has translated more and more into a situation whereby people leave sub-Saharan Africa in search of greener pastures.

The unstable situation and power vacuum in Libya created by the death of Mummar Gaddafi, Libya’s great leader who had a tight hold on the country’s border, also contributed to the increased flow of migrants from sub-Saharan Africa to Libya. In this light, former U.S. president Barack Obama, his Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, former UK prime minister David Cameron, and former French president Nicolas Sarkozy have all been blamed as the reason why Libya has more or less become a volatile place after the deposition of Gaddafi in 2011.

Migration is a big problem facing the European Union (EU). Migrants crossing the Mediterranean through Libya usually make landfall in Italy and Spain. The number of migrants crossing have doubled since this time last year, while about 3,300 migrants crossed into Europe in the first 3 months of this year alone. To deal with this menace, these countries have instituted various policies. Presently, Italy is paying Libyan smugglers indirectly to divert migrants attempting to cross the Mediterranean back to Libya. Many of these smugglers are now in charge of the kidnapping and slavery ring currently going on in Libya.

Already, African presidents of the countries in question have been forced to issue statements to address this menace, and already begun to repatriate their citizens from Libya. Nigeria is one of the countries whose citizens have tried to cross into Europe through Libya. It has already sent planes to airlift its people from Libya back to Nigeria. Nigeria’s senior special assistant to the president on foreign affairs and diaspora, Mrs Abike Dabiri said on Friday that Nigerians “were warned against going to deadly and dangerous Libya,” in a way implying it is their fault they became slaves. This seems like a victim blaming tactic, when really the government should be looking in the mirror for who to blame.

Nigeria has the largest economy and population in Africa. The inability of policymakers and the government to take advantage of this, coupled with widespread corruption in the upper echelons of same government has created poverty. Currently, Nigeria has the highest number of people living in extreme poverty in the world. It is not a surprise that when faced with the choice between escaping extreme poverty and braving the harsh sahara desert coupled with the risk of becoming slaves, people chose the latter. Desperate people do desperate things.
And so, there are those who would take the moral high ground, and blame the migrants for getting what they deserved trying to cross illegally into Europe. But illegal border crossings doesn’t give anyone the right to turn people into slaves. Blaming the victim is essentially mentally assenting that they deserved to be made slaves, and makes us no better than their fellow country-men who sold them to the Libyan smugglers.

It is important to note that Nigeria also has its own mini version of slavery, with children from neighbouring countries in Benin, Togo, Ghana, being trafficked into Nigeria and made housemaids, akin to slaves. According to UNICEF, “Children and women are recruited with promises of well-paid jobs in urban centres within the country or abroad, realising too late that they have been lured into a debt bond. Violence, coercion and deception are used to take victims away from their families.” The causes for children trafficking include “poverty, desperation to escape violence, corruption, unemployment, illiteracy and ignorance”, many of which are ironically the same reasons many Nigerians migrate to Europe via Libya. Hence, if Nigerians need to point fingers for who to blame, we need to point to ourselevs.

For the migrants who witnessed firsthand the horrors of being sold as a chattel, and being reduced to less than human, they will be marked forever. The knee jerk reaction would be to stop the perpetrators and bring them to justice, to stop the selling of Africans going on in Libya. However, what will happen to the victims that were flown back to their countries? Who caters for them? The trauma experienced by such victims will last for nearly a lifetime. Now, the migrants are coming to where it all started. Their suffering and torture at the hands of their captors have been rendered worthless now, and their self-worth shattered. Will they ever recover?


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