Fearless Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer Narciso Contreras has revealed that while global attention has been focused on the North African country of Libya as a gateway for migrants attempting to reach Europe by sea, its status as a flourishing modern-day slave market has somehow managed to fly under the radar.
“What I found is that it’s a slave market, it’s like an industry but the world is looking at Libya as a transit country,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
According to Contreras, who spoke to migrants kept as slaves during a documentary he was working on in Libya, the country is still in a lawless state six years after the fall of former dictator Muammar Gaddafi. Armed groups compete for land and resources, and large weapons and people-smuggling networks are operating with total impunity. Even worse, Libya has become a modern-day slave market, keeping migrants at the mercy of a complex trafficking web tolerated by the country’s many militia groups, an issue largely ignored by the world.
Back in April the U.N. migration agency (IOM) confirmed that growing numbers of African migrants were being traded in what they call slave markets before being held for ransom, forced labor or sexual exploitation. The current “street price” for a captured migrant is running anywhere from $200 to $500, and they are held on average for two to three months, the IOM said.
These migrants — from Nigeria, Senegal, Gambia, and elsewhere — are captured by a wide array of armed groups and smuggling networks as they head north towards Libya’s Mediterranean coast, often trying to catch boats for Italy. Most of them end up exploited as construction or agricultural laborers, the IOM says. Very few of them ever see any form of payment for their grueling toil.
An exhibition of Contreras’ work in Libya garnered much critical acclaim in Paris and London last year, and featured the following stark and soul-stirring images among many others…