One just doesn’t get over slavery. The impact on society following generations of people sold for profit is pervasive. Humanity’s gravest sin is treating people as if they are disposable.
While some view slavery as a bygone era of history, others see it as their heritage, a birthright. America has yet to account for decimating millions of indigenous people and stealing millions more out of Africa. Yet, in spite of the failure to take ownership of these atrocities, the U.S., along with other westernized nations, views itself as the moral standard of geopolitical affairs.
Thus, in 2011 America cheered, along with France and the UK, as Muammar Gaddafi’s 42-year reign as Libya’s Prime Minister ended in his assassination. Gaddafi was as a violent dictator guilty of crimes against humanity, and Libya posed a threat to global security due to its nuclear capabilities. Whether by sheer irony or the ahistorical notion of American exceptionalism, the US of A acts as world police. All while blanching at remarks about its own nuclear arsenal and demonstrable willingness to unleash its force.
For years, thousands of migrants from Eretria, Gambia, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Niger, Nigeria, Sudan, Senegal and other African nations have fled their homelands to reach Libya, a major port to Europe, with the Mediterranean Sea on its coast. Libya was formerly heralded for its oil reserves (being the highest producer in Africa), vast gold and silver holdings (Gaddafi’s own net worth was estimated at $200B) and technological ingenuity (developing aqueducts delivering fresh water to its desert inhabitants). However, in the six years since Gaddafi’s murder Libya has quickly destabilized, lacking a formalized or transitional government — as if by design — resulting in a migrant crisis leaving many victims to people willing to exploit an already dire situation
Migrants suffer and many people die, drowned from overturned boats or unable to breathe in overcrowded ship hulls. That is, of course, if they make it to the sea. Annie Kelly of The Guardian says that of those who make it to Europe, “…nearly three-quarters of those interviewed show strong indicators of having been trafficked or exploited for profit by criminals at some point on their journey.”
Their families, seeing the futility of remaining in their native countries, pull together nest eggs investing in the promise of a better future for their kin willing to make the journey across borders. Those fortunate enough to survive the journey to the sea, then pay smugglers to be packed by the dozens into cramped boats — often no more than life rafts — crossing the Mediterranean for opportunities for work, food, shelter or simply asylum.
“No one puts their children on a boat unless the water is safer than the land.” — Warsan Shire
Human trafficking is a fancy way of saying: people treated like cargo, commodities, products bought, exchanged or sold. In the past month, pictures and video of public slave markets in Libya have been shared on timelines of both laymen and celebrities alike. Tragically, the depictions of black-skinned men bound, beaten and tortured before reportedly sold for a few hundred dollars is not breaking news. Karen McVeigh reports for The Guardian, “Last year, more than 181,000 refugees and migrants, including more than 25,800 unaccompanied children, arrived in Italy via the central Mediterranean smuggling route, through Libya.”
The migrant crisis in Libya and refugee crisis in Europe exists as a result of Western nations imperialistic aims. The West influences the ousting of dictators who oppose democracy and capitalism, as they threaten the sovereignty of their economic power. Absent of leaders or a governing body, these nations fall into social, economic and political strife. The resulting chaos in the destabilized nations incites a power grab of resources via armed conflicts or civil war and creates a living nightmare for the women, men and children residing therein.
The complete lack of accountability by the West for the resulting slave trade in Libya is not surprising. What is happening abroad is what happens domestically, just less covertly. America has the world's highest prison population and therefore world's cheapest resource for forced labor. America’s own “modern slave trade,” i.e. the prison industrial complex, similarly exploits and abuses impoverished and marginalized people.
“Slavery never ended. It just evolved.” — Bryan Stevenson for the Equal Justice Initiative
Destabilized nations also threaten the stability of bordering countries since there is no internal body to quell the conflicts, resulting in situations like the Syrian migrant crisis. Perhaps, after observing what happened in Iraq after the killing of Saddam Hussein one might reconsider the “oust dictator of oil-rich nation and see what happens” strategy. The people left behind without a leader have to make life or death decisions in anarchy.
Capitalism is opportunistic in that it always seeks to exploit, which explains why migrants and refugees are hijacked in Libya en route to Europe. Hopefully, the current attention Libya’s slave trade has garnered brings deeper reflection on the ills here at home. Refugees are being abused and detained indefinitely here as well, as migrant workers are fleeing states due to persecution by ICE (see Haitian deportation and ICE raids). Libya’s public slave trade and migrant crisis only highlights the global economic impact of hyper-capitalism necessitating the exploitation of a cheap labor force.
(Photo: TAHA JAWASHI/AFP/Getty Images)