November 27, 2022
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Refugees auctioned into slavery

A video released by CNN two weeks ago on refugees being sold at a slave auction in Libya has caused less outrage than it should. Hundreds of people are being auctioned off for as low as $400 in nine markets around the country, but there is speculation that there are many more markets.

African refugees have used Libya as a pathway to Europe for years now. It is the primary corridor for those who are trying to reach Europe by sea and is considered one of the most dangerous migratory routes on earth. Human traffickers are exploiting the situation, as well as the refugees fear and vulnerability, to monetize and dehumanize their lives.

Human trafficking and modern-day slavery have existed in the undercurrent of the black market ever since mass slavery was abolished, but the very public auction of African refugees has brought back images of a “forgotten era” that was never really forgotten but is a suppressed trauma the world doesn’t ever seem to tackle.

There is no proper registration system for the thousands of migrants who enter Libya on a weekly basis, and detention centers are usually unsupervised. When they get too crowded, refugees are sold in an open market.

The lack of aid to refugees, the countries they come from and the countries they use as corridors has created a volatile microcosm largely controlled by both the overuse of firstworld military attention as well as the lack of foreign compassion. Just because Libya does not have the resources to handle a mass influx of refugees does not justify the sale of human life. The fact that Libya has been left almost to fend for themselves while firstworld powers decide how to divide and conquer with military action in North Africa and the Middle East whilst ignoring migration patterns contributes to the idea that migrants are not people, but nomadic commodities.

The most alarming aspect of this situation is the ease with which the country has normalized the practice and the fact that what the world considered to be international superpowers have not commented on the fact that their own invention has been resuscitated.

Right now, attention must be placed on how to shut down the auction houses and save migrants from being smuggled through the country, and hopefully to find safer passage for migrants to avoid being smuggled. It seems to be a trend to demonize those brave enough to search for new opportunities.

Isabella Grullón Paz can be reached at or via Twitter: @isagp23