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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 16 December 2018

France warns Libya over sanctions after slave market footage emerges

African migrants are pictured being sold for US$800 in footage obtained by CNN, sparking global outrage

French president Emmanuel Macron: “It's a crime against humanity" EPA / PHILIPPE WOJAZER
French president Emmanuel Macron: “It's a crime against humanity" EPA / PHILIPPE WOJAZER

France warned Libya that it faces international sanctions after secretly recorded footage of a slave market highlighted an apparently thriving trade in African migrants captured and sold to the highest bidder in the divided country.

The footage obtained by CNN showed the sale of migrants for as little as US$800. The broadcaster said it had identified nine sites across the country where migrants were being sold.

France said that it had alerted Libya to the trade on a number of occasions and demanded a swift investigation into the trade or Libya would face the prospect of international sanctions.

“What has been revealed is indeed trafficking of human beings, it's a crime against humanity," the French president Emmanuel Macron said on Wednesday during a news conference with African Union President Alpha Conde.

Mr Conde hit back, laying the blame at the door of the European Union, whose political leaders have come under intense pressure to limit the flow of migrants from conflict zones in countries such as Libya and Syria.

"What happened in Libya is shocking, scandalous, but we must establish the responsibilities," said Mr Conde.

“In Libya there is no government, so the European Union cannot choose a developing country and ask that country to detain refugees (...) when it doesn't have the means to do so.”

"The refugees are in terrible conditions ... so our European friends were not right to ask Libya to keep the migrants. The European Union is responsible."

Libya remains divided after the unseating of former strongman Muammar Qaddafi in 2011, with rival governments set up in Tripoli and the east of the country. In July, the rival leaders pledged in Paris to work towards elections in 2018 and a conditional ceasefire under the direction UN’s Libya envoy Ghassan Salame.

Mr Conde’s comments follows a February deal struck between Italy and Fayez al-Serraj, the head of Libya’s U.N.-backed government in Tripoli, to slash the number of migrants reaching its shores in return for funding for his administration.

Italy’s coastguard has been involved in the rescue of thousands of migrants in the Mediterranean but at least 5,000 people died trying to reach Europe in 2016, according to the International Organisation for Migration.

A separate deal between the European Union and Ankara in March 2016 to shut down another route has seen 10,000 mainly Syrians and Iraqis left stranded living in tents on the Greek islands closest to Turkey, according to officials. About 30,000 people arrived in Greece this year, compared to nearly one million who arrived in 2015.

They were among a series of European Union initiatives to crack down on the flotilla of small and dangerous boats has led to a sharp cut in the number of migrants able to make the journey and hit the pockets of smugglers who preyed on their desperation.

The barriers to the trafficking routes have left smugglers with a backlog of migrants who have often sold everything they have to make the perilous journey from across Africa. Many head to Libya with its north African coast an easy jumping off point for Europe.

CNN said that it obtained mobile phone footage offering an unidentified Nigerian being offered for sale as part of a group of “big strong boys for farm work” and led to further investigations in the country.

It said it got into one auction and watched a dozen men go under the hammer in just a few minutes. One of the detained migrants told the broadcaster that he had spent 16 months trying to reach Europe from Nigeria’s Edo state but only made it as far as Libya where he was held in grim conditions and mistreated.

He said that when he ran out of money, he was sold as a labourer as a way to pay back his debt. He was eventually released after the smugglers demanded ransom payments from his family.

"I could not make it, but I thank God for the life of those that make it," the man named as Victory told CNN. “I go back and start back from square one.”

Screening of the footage sparked protests across Europe and Africa and demands from officials and celebrities to end the trade.

The UN Security Council on Wednesday called for tougher action to crack down on human trafficking and modern slavery worldwide. France called for a further meeting, probably next week, to focus on the particular difficulties in Libya.