People for Sale: Where Lives Are Auctioned for $400

Nima Elbagir et al., CNN, November 14, 2017

“Eight hundred,” says the auctioneer. “900 … 1,000 … 1,100 …” Sold. For 1,200 Libyan dinars — the equivalent of $800.

Not a used car, a piece of land, or an item of furniture. Not “merchandise” at all, but two human beings.

One of the unidentified men being sold in the grainy cell phone video obtained by CNN is Nigerian. He appears to be in his twenties and is wearing a pale shirt and sweatpants.

He has been offered up for sale as one of a group of “big strong boys for farm work,” according to the auctioneer, who remains off camera. Only his hand — resting proprietorially on the man’s shoulder — is visible in the brief clip.

After seeing footage of this slave auction, CNN worked to verify its authenticity and traveled to Libya to investigate further.

Carrying concealed cameras into a property outside the capital of Tripoli last month, we witness a dozen people go “under the hammer” in the space of six or seven minutes.

“Does anybody need a digger? This is a digger, a big strong man, he’ll dig,” the salesman, dressed in camouflage gear, says. “What am I bid, what am I bid?”

Buyers raise their hands as the price rises, “500, 550, 600, 650 …” Within minutes it is all over and the men, utterly resigned to their fate, are being handed over to their new “masters.”

After the auction, we met two of the men who had been sold. They were so traumatized by what they’d been through that they could not speak, and so scared that they were suspicious of everyone they met.

Crackdown on smugglers

Each year, tens of thousands of people pour across Libya’s borders. They’re refugees fleeing conflict or economic migrants in search of better opportunities in Europe.

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But a recent clampdown by the Libyan coastguard means fewer boats are making it out to sea, leaving the smugglers with a backlog of would-be passengers on their hands.

So the smugglers become masters, the migrants and refugees become slaves.

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First Lieutenant Naser Hazam of the government’s Anti-Illegal Immigration Agency in Tripoli told CNN that although he had not witnessed a slave auction, he acknowledged that organized gangs are operating smuggling rings in the country.

“They fill a boat with 100 people, those people may or may not make it,” Hazam says. “(The smuggler) does not care as long as he gets the money, and the migrant may get to Europe or die at sea.”

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The auctions take place in a seemingly normal town in Libya filled with people leading regular lives. Children play in the street; people go to work, talk to friends and cook dinners for their families.

But inside the slave auctions it’s like we’ve stepped back in time. The only thing missing is the shackles around the migrants’ wrists and ankles.

Deportation ‘back to square one’

Anes Alazabi is a supervisor at a detention center in Tripoli for migrants that are due to be deported. He says he’s heard “a lot of stories” about the abuse carried out by smugglers.

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[Editor’s Note: The original story includes two videos and some maps that are all worth seeing.]

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