Appalled by reports of refugee “slave markets” in Libya, hundreds have staged protest rallies in France and Italy, pointing the finger of blame for the chaotic situation in the North African state at Europe, which supported a military intervention there back in 2011.
The protests were held in front of the Libyan embassies in Paris and Rome on Friday, days after US television network CNN aired footage of a live auction in Libya, where refugees were being sold as farmhands for as little as 400 dollars to North African buyers.
French demonstrators denounced their country’s military role in the Libyan uprising in 2011, when the then-French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, pushed for military strikes there. “They are able to resolve this problem, since they were the ones that created it. And legally, those who created the problem are responsible,” said Nicolas Aweme, a protester at the rally.
“To destroy Libya, Nicolas Sarkozy even moved the Charles de Gaulle (aircraft carrier), the French military to go bomb a sovereign country,” he added. “There, at the moment, if a small group is capturing people and reducing them to slavery, it’s because the Charles de Gaulle or the soldiers, France’s special units, cannot resolve it.”
Clementine Autain, a far-right French politician attending the protest, also said, “We are appalled, along with millions of French people and people around the world who find it hard to believe – as CNN’s footage showed us – that in the 21st century slavery exists in this way – human beings sold at auction, because it’s just intolerable.”
“So we’re here to show solidarity and outrage against what’s happening in Libya,” she added. In Rome, Italian demonstrators also denounced the reported slave auctions outside the Libyan Embassy, chanting “Slaves never again!” The video footage by CNN triggered outrage from the African Union and international calls for inquiry.
In a statement posted on Facebook, Libyan Deputy Prime Minister Ahmed Metig vowed that his UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) would investigate the “slave market” allegations in the North African country and free the slaves if any.
Libya has faced a power vacuum since a NATO military intervention resulted in the downfall of its longtime dictator Muammar Gaddafi in 2011. Since then, the country has been grappling with chaos and the emergence of numerous militant groups, including the Takfiri Daesh terror group.
The reported sale of black youths as farmhands in Libya has drawn an angry rebuke from the African Union and prompted angry protests in Paris. Libya currently has two governments, one based in the capital, Tripoli, and the other based in the eastern city of Tobruk. Libyan military commander General Khalifa Haftar in Tobruk does not recognize the authority of the Tripoli-based the GNA, which is recognized by the UN.
France and Italy have been the strongest backers, among Western allies, of the GNA, headed by Fayez al-Sarraj. Since the NATO-led intervention, the country has also become a key departure point for refugees and asylum seekers, who risk their lives leaving Libyan ports on ill-equipped boats in the hope of reaching Europe. The boats are usually intercepted by European vessels once they enter international waters.
Citing estimates provided by embassies, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) says the total population of refugees in Libya is about 700,000 to 1 million people, mainly coming from Egypt, Niger, Sudan, Nigeria, Bangladesh, Syria and Mali.
The IOM also announced that nearly 5,000 refugees, or 16 people a day, have died this year amid ongoing exodus from conflict zones to Europe. Many also blame major European powers for the mass displacement of Iraqis and Syrians, saying their policies have led to a surge in terrorism and war in the two Middle Eastern states.